She birthed my daughter in the dirt. There was no room at the inn for this young mama who fought to keep the baby she feared she shouldn't. Why bring a child into the world who might inherit the same disease that would take her out of it? Her body stretched and contracted on Africa's floor to give way to the little heart that would one day be mine to steward. She held the cord that connected her to her baby in her hands for an hour on the side of a dirt road while someone searched and found one who could cut that once-lifeline in a way that would ensure that her disease wouldn't pass on to this child.
The babe who kicked playfully against her insides and partook of what little nourishment she had would one day wear clothes I'd picked out for her and call me "Mommy." The cord would be cut, again -- with an ocean now between them.
I'm my daughter's second mother.
"I think about her all the time," another one of my daughters told me in a vulnerable moment.
I watch her hide behind her eyes and get lost in a storyline that doesn't include me and I know she's fashioning a childhood she can't remember and one of which I don't have pictures or stories.
"What did she look like, Mommy?" she asked me on another day. The question behind her question was what will I look like, one day? For my three daughters and one of my sons, imagination fills that gap between who I am and who is the woman who formed their birth marks.
Early into our marriage we had dinner with friends -- the first we'd known personally who had both biological children and children they'd adopted. Our friend said this: "Adoption emphasizes the understood, but often not lived, reality of all parenting: these children are ours to steward."
I didn't know I would one day live this.
I scratch their backs at night and tickle them, silly. I lay out their clothes on Sunday and clip their fingernails and brush their teeth. I tell them stories and teach them to read and sing to them when their little hearts struggle. I spend my mornings in prayer for them and they fill the space of our just-before-bed conversations. But sometimes they fall asleep dreaming of another mommy.
So I share them.
I share them with women whose secret moments of love, whose hidden outpourings of sacrifice, will never be "liked" or tagged or even remembered, by anyone on this side of heaven. I share them with women whose bodies formed and sustained my children and whose ears heard that groggy infant-cry that broke the air outside the womb.
In truth, I want to be the only one whose hair wisps form my children's perspective on aging beauty and who gets to behold their every developmental mile-marker. I want to be their only life witness. When the lights are out, I wrestle with this sharing.
But He shared them with me, first and -- as is and will be with all of my children -- they are only mine to steward. To hold, not to cling. He is their first life-witness. He beholds their every moment. He made them to fall asleep dreaming of Him and one day He might call them far away from where I live, or from what I might think they should do with their lives, or to someone I wouldn't have pictured them to marry.
To catch and release.
Adoption makes more prominent His reality of parenting.
They are His. And He shares them with us.
Photos compliments of Mandie Joy.
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