It has been four years since I first set foot in this country. Four years ago today that I held my youngest child for the first time. Four years ago Monday that my oldest son completely ripped my heart from my chest, and a burning passion was lit inside of me for children who have had their childhood stolen from them. Four years since I left my blonde little babies an ocean away, and in turn radically changed the life they once knew. Four years since this country captured my heart and beckoned me here. Everything changed in those first moments. Little did I know that four years ago 31 year old me was about to have her world completely turned upside down. I didn’t know what I was getting into, and I am glad because I am mostly a coward. God knew that, so He kept me in the dark until I was too far smitten to do anything but follow the wild path He set my feet upon.
Looking back it all started rather simplistically. We wanted another baby, but my pregnancies were rough, so that led to tender hearts toward adoption. Ethiopia had what appeared to be a crisis at the time- a crisis of orphaned children needing families. We were a family. We wanted another child. It made sense. So we said yes to adoption and to Ethiopia, and then to our special, sweet Jamesy, and then to Habtamu, and all the while our world tilted off axis and lines, that we had once drawn, blurred. And in it all I held my breath waiting for everything to right once again and return to normal. I waited for friends to return, for the American Dream to take hold again, for our family to blend back in, for life to return to the easy pleasantness that it once held, for Jesus to stop asking us to do crazy, wild things. Our yes was over, and it was time to get back to normal.
But normal never showed back up, and a new normal took its place. Sometimes in my most honest moments I grieve the loss of that normal, but mostly I embrace this adventure that my Jesus has so lovingly invited me into. I feel as if I am one of the lucky ones, as I get to look back to a specific moment in time, four years ago exactly, when everything changed.
I now live this one, wild life back in the country where it all began. There are late nights with no power and cold showers and spiders and dust everywhere. And there is laughter and life and love. I cannot walk outside the safety of our gate without being surrounded by children. Some of them are teeny tiny and some are bigger than my own big boy. Some dirty and tattered – so dirty that to touch them makes me stink with them. And some not as much. My hands are always grabbed and smiles are abundant, as are hugs and kisses. My hair is touched, my clothes yanked on, and always a silly grin is plastered across my face in a contented happiness I have never before known. My heart is continually stretched, and I so desire to pick up the life of Jesus here – to make every person that I encounter feel as if they matter – because they do. I have been making this my goal every time I walk out my gates. It is simple and yet I believe it is exactly what Jesus did. I cannot help everyone who comes to me, there are just too many. How can I pick and choose the countless street children that I encounter? The magnitude of the needs just outside my door are surreal. The number of starving children and half grown men addicted to chat and young mamas begging on the corners overwhelms me. How do I choose who to help? Most days, unless the Spirit clearly prompts me, I can’t choose. But I can look every person in the eye and acknowledge them as another human being. I can love in big ways just by giving a dirty street child a hug and a squeeze – just by noticing them when everyone else hurries on by. I can imitate Jesus just by seeing them. I am learning this and putting it into practice every day, and it is changing everything. It is changing me.
At home my lap is constantly full, sometimes with my blonde babies, sometimes with brown-eyed babies, and even still sometimes with my teenage boy who even after two years of security still questions whether this mama can really love him. Our house is seldom quiet. Languages collide and shouts and giggles echo off the walls. Currently I answer to “Mom” from seven people, and my head swims to keep up with who needs what from me. And every day, although most would see this as mundane, I fall more and more in love with this life. For me this is what my heart has ached, longed and cried out for. Four years ago, the moment my feet hit the dust here in Addis I knew something was missing, but I couldn’t possibly understand what it was that was missing.
But now I know. It was the African sunrises, and Habesha food, and cold showers, and grubby hands reaching for me, and grown women, who missed out on childhood, calling me mom, and a spunky little two year old who is too precocious for her own good. It is watching my belly babies love in ways I did not know they were capable of, and seeing my brown-eyed boys back in their home country and finally healing from wounds that should have never been. It is catching my husband’s eye across our crowded and crazy living room, as children twirl and dance, and adults laugh and sip buna and nibble popcorn, and in that single glance a thousand words pass between us, all resting on the knowing that this is what we sacrificed for. It’s roosters crowing and dogs yapping and the low growl of hyenas. It’s seeing Jesus in the dirty street children or the young man who finally realizes that life is worth living. It’s opening my home to strangers and witnessing the miracle of how quickly love crashes in making us a weird, jumbled-up family. This was all missing in my former life, and while nothing looks the same as it once did, I wouldn’t change this new normal for all the white picket fenced houses in the world.
I know that I am here because God has put me here. In some little way I know that He is using me to change the world. He is using me in simple ways, and I want to give my life away right here. There is no place else I’d rather be than right here. Four years ago I could never have known that this was the life I was missing. Now I know.