Another Day in Kenya – Chapter 8
My heart shatters as I pass through textbook stages of grief. But when the denial stage spirals through, I sit down and refuse to budge. Questions torment me. If Emma came to the orphanage once due to an obviously unstable home environment, perhaps she will return. More than anything, I want her to be loved and safe. The details of the story of how she came to be abandoned and the mysterious appearance of a woman months later, claiming to be her mother, leave my heart afraid for Emma. If her mother failed her so terribly once, what would prevent it from happening again? I remember ways I felt God reassuring me while I was in Kenya that I would adopt Emma. These feelings were the only reason I could gather the strength to leave her. I sit there, aching in the field of denial, and pitch a tent.
I also struggle to reconcile the suffering I witnessed in Kenya with the everyday life of middle-class America. Soon after returning home, I learn of the death of a baby named Elliana. While my students and I served in the baby ward, we all poured attention and love into Elliana, but she never smiled. She showed no obvious signs of physical illness, but her eyes remained hollow, as if she had seen too much to bear. I wonder if she died of a broken heart. I also receive news of a measles scourge at the orphanage, and the deaths of five of the healthiest babies.
A friend hosts a gathering of friends to hear about my trip. Present are people of all religious persuasions, and some with none. A woman I know is a Christian listens to my stories, and then she says, “God is sovereign and puts people in places where they will find him, but sometimes that means a lot of suffering.”
It isn’t that I disagree with her, but I want her to keep going.
One of the women, who is not religious at all, visibly draws back in disbelief. She replies, “Yes, well, those babies who die because of lack of medical care aren’t more or less aware of God when they die.”
The Christian asserts that God can make Himself apparent even to little babies.
I remember the feeling of that sacred current flowing through me into Emma. I interrupt their exchange, “Although I too believe it is true God can reveal Himself to anyone at any time, I also believe it is up to us to be His hands and feet to serve the oppressed.”
I leave the gathering feeling angry that people who claim to know God apply platitudes to tragic, complicated problems they have never personally observed. And then I feel guilty for judging others.
Before I even left Kenya, after Brian and Debbie Lee rescued Isabella, Sammy, and Emma, I devised a plan to ask the adoption agency through which we adopted Jedd, Hope’s Promise, if we could raise funds through them to provide medical care for the orphanage. Hope’s Promise quickly approves the idea. I am grateful to channel at least some of my broken heart into stock-piling resources to help children in the future.
Amid the sadness of losing Emma and reverse culture shock, our three children fill our home with joy.
Justin took his first steps in Kenya at age 12 months during his brother’s adoption, while Jedd could hardly sit up on his own when he came into our care at age 15 months, much less walk. I often carried Jedd in a backpack in those early days so my hands were free to pick up Justin or to work. But, with two brothers to chase, Jedd quickly progresses through developmental stages. Although he measured in the 11th percentile for size when he first came home, by the time I return from my second trip to Kenya, both he and Justin regularly rate in the 80th or 90th percentile. Research reveals the impact of institutionalization on children’s physical development and their potential recovery once placed in a family; I watch it unfold before my very eyes.
As Jedd becomes increasingly mobile, he and Justin devise little schemes to carry out together – like emptying entire bottles of shampoo on the couch. I know if they are quiet for too long, it’s not a calm to enjoy but definitely a reason to investigate. While I was away in Kenya, Justin’s verbal skills grew by leaps and bounds into full-fledged conversation; Jedd developed 2-3 word simple sentences. I also came home to Jedd’s new habit of dramatically tossing himself to the floor with crocodile tears, which greatly amuses us although we try not to show it. Within seconds, his brilliant smile lights up his face once more. My three boys flood my heart with delight.
A year after my trip to Kenya, we plan to return again, this time as a family, to serve with the InterVarsity Global Project. One month before our departure, terrorists shoot down a plane in Mombasa and all the major airlines cancel their flights to Kenya. The team diverts to South Africa. Our hearts belong to Kenya, so we opt to post-pone our family’s travel until the next year. Ready to jet across the world and search for Emma, I am grounded in my field of denial for another year.
I know without a doubt that meeting Emma was God-ordained. I wrestle daily with uncertainty about whether God promised me we would adopt her. I can’t shake an unreasonable hope that somehow she will return to the orphanage. David gently proposes a clue in the movie “Dragonfly.” The main character followed dragonflies, hoping to find his wife. But, in the end, he stumbled upon a completely different treasure.
I meet weekly with friends to pray, three of us waiting for promises we believe we received us from God, all of us hoping against hope. My friend Megan sends me this message written by her friend Willie, based on the story of Old Testament Abraham,“My friend, ultimately you are the only one who knows what God is promising you and what is a product of your own heart, hopes, and imagination. But remember this – if you believe God in spite of circumstances, it will be credited to you as righteousness. And that’s everything.”
I write a message to my friend Megan, “God told us both to wait. This we have agreed is certain. As Debbie told me, we should expect the instruction to stop waiting should be at least equally as clear. I remember well when it felt urgent that God tell me whether Emma was going to be mine or if I should mourn and go on. I wanted to create my own protection for my heart. But, God won’t let me choose either of those two options. He told me the best option is a third one, to wait and trust him to protect my heart. And, somehow, I can attest, he gives me strength I never thought I could have. So, friend, the only option that will lead to freedom for us, I believe, is to keep watch, my friend, keep watch.”
Both David and I agree our family is not complete. Ever since adopting Jedd, we intended to add another child to our family who looks like him and shares parts of his story. Whether Emma returns or another child waits for us, we prepare. We exchange “cool-ness” for practicality and enter the mini-van stage. We “pop-top” our two bedroom, one-bath bungalow, adding a room intended for a girl. I paint the room purple and hang it with artwork depicting flowers and dragonflies. I remain eager to start the actual legal process to adopt, but David isn’t quite ready.
As our long-awaited family trip to Kenya nears in 2004, I enter a three day period of fasting and prayer. During those days, I pour out my heart in an email to an older friend from church, a woman well-acquainted with the intricacies of intercession. She responds, “I know you would love to have baby Emma for your own; but TRUST GOD that He may have a bigger plan for many Emmas.”
In a message soon after, she writes: “I feel in my spirit that ‘Emma’ is more than one little person, she is an idea, a mission that God is forming in you and others. I don’t know whether you will ever get to hold her as your own baby, or whether you will hold many Emmas over your lifetime but whatever happens is better than you can ever imagine.”
Meanwhile, a friend I met during my 2002 trip to Kenya completes the US-process to adopt her second child from Mother Teresa’s. Janet was serving with another team from America while I served with my students. She fell in love with little Aggie. I asked her one day as we both stood in the baby ward, “Why don’t you adopt her?” As a single woman, she did not realize it was even possible. After Aggie came home, Janet decided to add a second daughter. The sisters matched her from afar with a baby named “Lilly.” But as the time grew near for Janet to claim her, Lilly became very ill. The sisters gave her another child. As our family prepares to go to Kenya, taking funds raised through Hope’s Promise to secure medical care for children at the orphanage, she asks me to do whatever I can for Lilly.
At long last, in 2004, David and I step off that airplane into the familiar musky night air, dank with fumes of burning trash. We hand our passports as well as those of our three boys at the visa counter to an official, still either bored or trying to appear intimidating. When I greet him in Swahili, though, “Habari yako?” his face breaks into a glorious smile. The adorable four-year-old brown-faced boy perched on my hip most certainly breaks down his defenses as well.
“Karibu Kenya,” he says, as he stamps our books, still grinning.