Despite the thorough training, despite the literature, despite conversations and articles and my own good sense, I’ll admit–now–that I went into all this expecting a fairytale:
D would arrive to be hosted by us and we would love her instantly. There would be bumps, sure, but they would be soft and brief, like those wide, low speed bumps in some neighborhoods which feel like a pleasant heart flutter as you ease over them.
Yes, I expected pleasant heart flutters… little snatches of unrest tucked into crevices between large, generous pockets of lovely bliss.
… Even I am rolling my eyes at all of this. I pride myself on walking around with eyes wide open. “Listen,” I’ll tell my friends, my voice raised a little, “I know what’s going down here. I am ready. BRING IT.”
But this isn’t another tale of God laughing at my sillies or whatnot. It’s not even an admission that I got it all wrong and was blindsided. Really, hosting D has just been a mottled surprise.
Because I love her, but not like my own children, and I don’t mean that in the less/more kind of way. I mean that I loved her as soon as she giggled at my dorky pantomiming, loved her in the way that you do when you recognize the goodness in a person, their immense worth in God’s eyes. This kid has stressed me out badly enough to drive me up to my room where I eased the door shut ever so slowly, crawled onto my bed, and pulled the pillow down tight around my ears so I could forget for a moment how much of a grown-up I am and how scary this thing that we’re doing has been.
It is scary. Our not-so-pleasant challenges have been the kind that send my heart racing with frustration, my face flushing with anger, my mind reeling and grasping wildly for some scrap of wisdom to guide me.
My prayers have been wordless. I sit quietly, staring off into the horizon while I idle at an intersection, trusting somehow that as I do, everything burning in my heart is wafting up to Him. He knows. If there’s anything I’ve been sure of during all this, it’s that He knows and cares and responds.
I know this because yesterday, on the heels of a glorious morning, she was hurling her truths at me like fastballs, push-push-pushing with eye rolls and muttering under her breath in her language, the translation coming out garbled but clear nonetheless: “I can take care of myself. I don’t need anyone to protect me. Leave me alone.”
I crouched beside her and asked her why she was treating me this way. She looked at me hard for a long minute, daring me to lob another question at her, and then she turned to look out of her window. Game over. I’d been escorted from the field.
But today she stopped midway through pre-packing her duffel bag with me, pausing as she folded a shirt to look at me once more but this time with vulnerability. She let go of the shirt, extended her arms; tilted to one side, then the other. “Airplane…” she said quietly. I nodded. We went back to packing.
Yes, sweet, fiery girl, I know all about that: Wanting to go but yearning to stay and all the confusion that stings and holds the two together.
I’m sharing all this because I haven’t figured out what God was up to with this experience. I doubt I’ll really understand it all for a long time. I’ll watch, spirit trembling, as she moves forward through the airport security line on Friday. If I know her at all after five weeks, she’ll be joking with her friends, gabbing excitedly. When there’s a lull, that’s when she’ll let herself retreat for a moment… maybe she’ll sneak a look at me.
I have no idea how I’ll feel when that look happens. I have no idea how I’ll feel when she disappears, orange shirt cloaked beneath the bright backpack that mirrors her personality so well. But, feelings in themselves have proven so unreliable lately.
I’ll know as I walk back to my car, holding my keys too tight in my hand, that I love this kid and will think of her every day. I know that just because this was the hardest thing I’ve ever done doesn’t mean we chose wrong. I know that I understand a bit better now what actual love is, because only the truest love–stoked inside me by the One who embodies it, who’s told us that it never fails (IT NEVER FAILS)–only that truest love could have been what laid the pillow aside those half dozen times, carrying me downstairs to the side of a child who refused my requests but snuggled closer nonetheless, her hand falling–totally by chance, of course–into mine.
If you are curious about hosting and the wonderful organization we’ve worked with this summer, you can read more about New Horizons For Children here.