One little boy has tipped our whole lives upside down. I always knew that we would change his life by bringing him home, but I never knew that he would profoundly change my life. We set out to raise a ransom(adoption fees) and adopt this little wisp of a boy, with the idea that we would give him a new life and home. With an orphan crisis in the millions, we were asked how adopting one could make a difference, and we would respond that we were making a difference “to this one”. In our naivety, we would say we cannot save them all, but we could save this one. And never had it occurred to me that it would be so much bigger than saving him. It never occurred to me that I could not just say, I’ll save this one and never look back. It just didn’t cross my mind that once I saw the dying children, heard the silent orphanage, or touched the lonely, that I could not just walk away saying I made a difference “to this one”. Never did it cross my mind that I was the one who was held captive and needed saving.
He is so grateful. How in the world can a 5 year old be grateful? Imagine a heart-felt “thank you mommy” every time you set food before your child, or “thank you so much, mommy”, as you tuck your child into bed. Israel is filled with a depth of gratitude that at times makes me feel physically sick, because I don’t deserve it. I am not his savior; I am not even that wonderful of a mother. I have got to see him come alive, as he breathes in family and love. Through my human eyes, I have watched the birth of a small boy and have been the receiver of an outpouring of gratitude. And the thought that he understands what he now has; in comparison to what he once lived, is a gut-punch. The fact that my little boy looks at the family around him and is thankful to me, brings me to my knees. It is a constant reminder that Israel sees the world through a lens of hardship and pain. Each day is still colored by previous trauma and gut-wrenching emotional abuse.
Daily my boy lives a life that is a sharp contrast to one year ago. One year ago, he had survived unnecessary surgeries, whiled away hours playing with his hands because fingers become toys when a mind needs to be occupied. He tasted his meals from a metal cup sitting in a crib. He sat alone day and night marking time by the shadows of the crib slats as they marched across the tile floor. Israel sat in that orphanage day after day and his eyes traced the ceiling, back and forth, back and forth and he hummed with his hands folded in his lap. I know this because since we picked him up, whenever he is tired or stressed, he will sit on the floor, fold his hands, and his eyes will glaze as he stares at the ceiling with his head bobbing side to side. This is how he shut his mind down, this is how he spent his hours, this is how he lived…
Israel never had a possession, a favorite toy, or a well-worn blankie. No one snapped a picture of him at birth, or when he got his first tooth, or when he sat up the first time. And all these dark days contrast deeply with the light of family, and I don’t want the credit. I don’t want him to be grateful to me because it shines a mirror on my own ungratefulness. It makes me look full on into what I have been given every single day.
And yet Israel still gives, he still loves, and he is continually grateful… He is these things because by waiting in the dark, he can fully feel the light. By living with pain and sorrow, he finds great joy in the smallest things. In his tiny soul is a light that was not smothered by the fear, the pain, or the darkness. And as we have brought him home, he has shared this with the rest of us. And still I ask how he continues to see joy, to be joy, and to share joy.
This Christmas, my family has been given the best gift from our littlest member. He has taught us far more than we have taught him. He has made me realize that I was wishing and striving for things that had no value or substance. I was hoping for easy, painless and happy. Israel has shown me that very little is gained by living the easy and the painless, so this year my wishes are different.
- My wish is for hard, tough and impossible; because that is where God is waiting.
- My wish is to be tired and exhausted because I have poured my life into purpose.
- My wish is for fear and failure because getting back up after being knocked down is where true success lives.
- My wish is to walk with the broken and shout for the weak. I wish for righteous indignation and anger at the injustices I experience when I have opened my eyes to a world living outside my safe life.
- My wish is to live the impossible, day to day, realizing that I am a breath away from losing my grip, but the hand that is gripping mine will never let go.
- My wish is to lift my eyes from behind the bars of material wealth and hollow living where I have been imprisoned, and learn to live and value riches that can’t be purchased.
- My wish is to live each moment with the knowledge that I have only one life to live and one death to die. I want to live understanding that many will call for my talents and time, but I must choose how to spend them. I want to live knowing I have only one soul and it belongs to my Creator. And maybe if I think this way, I will realize that many of the things that I have lived for do not matter.
Israel has experienced the dark, he is a changed person. As his mother I wish to take away his memories. There are days and nights that I want to take on the nightmares that follow him, and the pain he has lived. But, when we taste sorrow, pain, and loneliness; sometimes it is a gift. Israel has been shaped by his experiences; they have made him who he is. This does not mean that I wouldn’t change it all in a moment; but it is a good lesson for all of us. Maybe going through hard times, and living with darkness allows the light to shine a bit brighter, just like our Israel.