There’s this strange dichotomy that I am living. One month ago, I sat in orphanages where children like my son, Joel, die. I’m not exaggerating, I’m not sensationalizing, boys like my son die. You see, he has a facial deformity, he is deaf, and he cannot see well. These things equate to “rejected”, “unadoptable”, “hidden” and “unworthy” in orphanages across Eastern Europe.
Last week, I received an outpouring of love and support from people around the world because my son, Joel, was stared and pointed at during children’s church. I wrote a heartfelt post about educating children in regards to differences and it went viral; and I was blown away as it was shared across the globe. And to me, it seems so very surreal. This anger at the injustice of children staring and pointing at my son with a cranio-facial difference stood in stark contrast to the children I had just visited that sit wasting away in an orphanages. And I wondered where is the outrage, the outpouring, and the love for them. I am almost embarrassed about that post, about accepting the words of love and concern from so many. I want to take those words of righteous anger and indignant support and pour them out in the places we find the truly marginalized and vulnerable. I want people to point and stare and be outraged for something so much bigger than my son.
I want them to be angry at these places. Places where the “deformed”, the “retarded”, and the “rejects” are stored. Where it is accepted that these children are burdens on society and at birth families are strongly encouraged to place them in an institution to live their days hidden because “people don’t want to see that” and “they will only be a burden”.
It wasn’t long ago that I learned about these children and I hoped they were pieces of sensationalized media rolling across my social media news feed. I was sad, but could it truly be this bad?
At the time, I determined I would advocate and give financially to the adoption of these orphans far away. I had already adopted from foster care and I justified my lack of action by saying I had done all I could. Yet I still could not shake the images and the idea of babies dying in a crib alone.
So I began to tell others about these kids, hoping to find families that would step forward to adopt. I honestly remember trying to convince church, friends, anyone who would listen to SEE these children and adopt.
They looked at me like I was crazy, and yes, I was. My words were, “Hey, you are going to need around $30,000 and you will fly across the world to a crumbling orphanage and pick up a neglected, special needs child who has probably been sedated for years and left languishing in a crib, and you should bring this child home with you to raise as your own.” And I wondered why no one was signing up.
The choice to help continued to gnaw at my brain, but I bucked against the idea. I already knew it would be hard, I knew it would change us, and I knew there would be days that I wished I could take it back. There would be days I was tired and didn’t want to lift a child onto a surface or change a big person’s diapers. There would be times I would look at my friends and think how easy their lives looked, and how hard it was just to go to the grocery store. I knew I’d be scared and I’d doubt this choice was God’s path for my life and I’d think back to easier days. I knew that I would be choosing something that not everyone would support and that one child with special needs was hard to manage; let alone four. I knew these things.
But there is also something that I didn’t know. I didn’t know that this choice would completely destroy me. That stepping onto that plane and actually walking into that orphanage would completely change my life trajectory. And so with God-given naivety, I boarded that plane and I flew across the ocean and I saw the little boy, but I also saw more. I was given a rare glimpse of the ‘Section of Malformations’; home to hidden ‘malformations’. Infant-sized children tucked away at the bottom of the stairs in a silent, old orphanage. A forgotten island of misfits, slowly dying as they wait in solitude. I realized that I had been fed a lie and I’d swallowed it whole. It was worse than I could imagine, and my eyes were open to a world outside my suburban life and I ran back to my hotel to dry heave and cry on the bathroom floor.
As Christians we sometimes tell ourselves little half-truths. We say things like, God will never give me more than I can handle or bear, or “I can do all things through Christ”. Well, this is not true, because I am carrying something that is more than I can bear and I cannot adopt or save every infant-sized child I touched one month ago.
At first I believed that I wasn’t leaning enough on God. I thought that I was failing to trust in His plan. Because certainly I should be able to handle what I was seeing, touching, holding. How come I was not able to bear this pain or carry this knowledge. Why was I seeing these things? And if I could do ALL things through Christ, why did God not give me the plan to fix this. I couldn’t handle the thought that children would die waiting for a family that would never come. It buckled me, and I thought it was because I was weak.
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing. At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting.” ― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
The idea that “I was happy before living in my daily life” and can ever return to such a place is gone. I’ve realized that what I’ve witnessed, held, touched and lifted has become too weighty and trans-formative for such calculating logic to fix. I find myself grappling with God and questioning this sorrow and pain. And yes, there are days I question my faith, as I look to God and ask why I’ve seen these things, these horrible atrocities. I know the ‘right answers’ to why God allows pain and suffering, but it’s a lot harder to hold those words when you swim in the deep of this darkness and cannot see past the need.
I am grieving, I am grieving for the death of my life before orphans. I am sorrowful because my eyes are now open and the view is enough to destroy me. And I feel so very ineffectual to help. I am small and the ocean of need is all I can SEE. Will you SEE with me? If ever a post deserved to go viral, or to cause outrage and action; it would be this one.