On the eve on celebrating our son’s “Gotcha Day,” (the day we met our son), he is on our living room floor, spread around with his cars and Legos. He chatters endlessly, inventing stories of heroes and villains, entertaining himself dearly in his 5-year-old mind. By all accounts, he is a typical kindergartner, with affinities for food and a boyish appetite for play.
On May 30, 2016, my husband and I rode to the Chinese orphanage in Hubei province, to meet our 22 month-old son. The tall, yellow buildings pierced through the dense, polluted air. Our car flew through intersections, veering fiercely around webs of mopeds and numerous motorcycles. The bravery of the drivers kept us alert: driving in China takes courage, skill, and a dexterous mind. And praying. Lots of praying from the frightened, un-buckled American passengers. (Seatbelts are rarely used there, apparently).
We had anticipated meeting him from the moment we received his photos and medical papers. Adoption for me turned out to be more like another kind of pregnancy—except longer, with more paperwork, passports, visa, training videos, and translators. Though we saw his face, we really didn’t know a whole lot about our handsome boy. He was minimally introduced to us. His life was summarized in but a few bullet-points, translated from Mandarin into English, aimed at giving us a general, rounded picture of this little being. His résumé fit on a couple of papers: boy, Chinese, orphan, 22 months old, sleeps through the night, loves bananas, smiles a lot, doesn’t cry very often, abandoned at the orphanage gate when he was 4 weeks old, fingers missing, extra toe, healthy overall, growing and developing relatively well, lived in the orphanage all his life, cared by a foster grandmother (“nainai” in Chinese).
For all the information we received, I was still asking, who our boy was. What does he really like? When does he really cry? What triggers him? What hurts him? Has he been loved well? Is he going to thrive with us? Will he miss his nainai? We knew his life was deeper and wider than the couple of pages and the few beautiful pictures introducing him.
Levi has been home for 4 years now. Long gone are the days of Chinese customs, Mandarin noises, orphanage memories, Chinese New Year celebrations, and porridge daily meals. He has grown into a healthy, inquisitive, creative, happy young boy. He celebrates 4th of July’s, Thanksgiving dinners, feasts on hamburgers and French fries, speaks in perfect English, and makes new memories with his family and friends.
Our son is growing. And his mind is beginning to ask some hard questions. Our little person is processing his little life. And we are listening. I didn’t expect a kindergartner to be very introspective, and yet we have already heard him ask why we chose him; if he cost too much money; and if we still love him even when he is acting unkind. That’s when we know to stop and answer him. Not because we want to infuse him with a love of self as if to make up for the time in the orphanage. Not because we want to boost him with an unhealthy dose of self-esteem. Instead, we want to stop and engage with his little mind because we want to direct his thinking and processing of his life in a Godward direction. His questions are our gospel opportunities. To shut him down or dismiss his concerning questions is to miss out on training him in the gospel of adoption in Jesus.
My husband and I are committed to help him see God’s hand on his life, from its very beginning. We remind him that God’s hand was on his birth-mother’s heart as she chose life for him; we help him see how God’s hand stayed over him as the orphanage chose a kind and loving nainai for him during his stay there; and we celebrate God’s hand on his life as He guided us to him. We rejoice in God bringing us together, a family from Kentucky and a handsome boy from China. In telling him, again and again, that his life is worth far more than all the money in the world because God gave him eternal value, has reminded us, also, of what truly matters and what is transient in this world. But most of all, we tell Levi that our love for him is not based on his behavior but on our commitment to love him no matter what. We reassure him that we love him because he is our son, not for his assets, behavior, looks, or performance. We are committed to him to the end. We point to Jesus as our model for our love—who doesn’t love us any less or more because of our behavior, but is constant towards us because of his commitment made on the cross for us.
I’m not sure how much he understands or if we are making any progress yet. His questions, though not as frequent, are still coming when we least expect them. As we repeat the same answers, we can’t help but remind ourselves of the adoption in Christ for us, as well. How we often take for granted God loving us through all seasons, how we often don’t think of the price our Lord paid to adopt us in God’s family, and what kind of love our Savior shows us on a daily basis. As Christians, we’ve grown to understand the richness of heavenly adoption through the process of the earthly one in our family.
On this day of celebration, we remember a union orchestrated in Heaven for our family. We bask in God’s good plans for our lives as we eat Chinese dumplings, watch our adoption video, tell stories, and watch the pictures from that day. Though we love our son very much, our love can’t compare to the love our Father has for him—a love that is forever, unchanging, and extremely costly. We will celebrate the truth of the gospel in our lives and pray for more adoptions—heavenly ones for each of our 4 children. While this earthly adoption has brought us together as a family, there is a heavenly one that will keep us together for eternity, in Christ.