“It is hard to accept that anyone, even the God of the universe, could love your child the way that you do.” -Angie Smith
3 years and 3 months ago I was working in Mexico when one sunny day two new sisters arrived, the oldest spunky, sassy, tough & yet so needy for attention, the youngest so small, timid & withdrawn… both hurting, both living through the loss & trauma of being taken from their mother and placed into an orphanage, both so little, and both so beautiful. Anahi is oldest, and I remember playing with her in the trees.. I also remember being slightly annoyed because she wanted to be captured in every single picture that I took, and I have regretted that emotion of annoyed-ness so many times since. I remember Yessenia was so quiet, and I even remember someone suggesting that perhaps she was mentally disabled. One day I saw her hiding behind a door, but I was busy with another child and it didn’t occur to me that maybe she needed someone to go to her, to hold her. So I didn’t. I didn’t go to her. It was years later, when I remembered that moment and was so angry with myself for not recognizing her pain, and not doing anything to try to soothe it.
2 years and 10 months ago I was back in Mexico, it was unexpected but so perfect, and I was told that my job was to be a Mama to the littlest girls in the orphanage. There were ten of them, ten wild crazy beautiful girls, most of whom I already knew, and two of them were those same little girls I had seen enter our home 5 months earlier. It was a whirlwind with all those girls, running up the stairs to our new shared bedroom, hearing them cheeping my new name like little baby chicks, ”Mami! Mami! Mami!” and realizing the weight of what I had just become to them. Mami. Love began to grow between me and those girls, and I began to know each of them, really truly know them. Anahi was so kind, and so responsible. On crazy mornings when I was struggling to get each girl bathed in a bathroom that was constantly running out of water, dressed in a room which somehow always seemed to be swallowing up pieces of the girls’ uniforms, and fix each girls’ hair in a culture that expects even five-year-olds to have perfectly combed and gelled hairstyles… Anahi would quietly fix her own hair and sweetly sweep up the room for me, because that is who she is, and that is who she was… even at the age of 8. Kind. Responsible. Sweet. Hard-working. & So Beautiful. She would ask me if her hair looked okay and then she would run off to school, where I know she was equally as kind and good to her teachers.
That same hot summer I fell just as much in love with Yessenia as I did with her older sister. Yessenia is so bright, so full of joy, and at night before bed when I would pray with each girl I began to sing to her the song ”You are my sunshine..” because it just fits the silly, fun, happy little girl that she is. God taught me so much through Yessenia that summer. I remember one night she was acting frustrated and snappy towards all the girls, and as I was about to tell her to just stop it already, I felt God give me patience and grace for her and so instead I called her close. As she stood in my arms I asked her what was wrong, and she lifted up a string of light pink beads to say all dejectedly, ”my necklace broke.” ohhhh. ”Oh, Yesi, I’m sorry.. you really like that necklace don’t you?” was my reply, and all of the sudden she was better, asking me what we were going to do that night. All she needed was someone to offer her empathy, and that moment with her has forever changed the way I see my children. A different night I experienced something with her that is harder for me to write about, yet it is truth and it is one of the most important things God has ever shown me. It was right before bedtime, and Yessenia was acting difficult and not cooperating one bit. I had something to say to her and as I stood over her I said, ”Yessenia look at me.” but she wouldn’t, and I said more firmly, ”Look at me, Yessenia.” but still she wouldn’t, so I put my hand under her chin and lifted her face to look into mine so that I could tell her that her behavior was unacceptable. A minute later the lights were off, the girls were strewn around the room sleeping, and I was lying in my own bed, exhausted, but I couldn’t sleep. The Spirit was telling me that I shouldn’t have treated Yessenia that way, and I was arguing back that I had every right to. She was acting out, and I did what I was thought was right to correct that behavior. I didn’t hurt her, I just forced her to look me in the eyes. We argued like that for at least 20 minutes, until finally I accepted that even though I thought I had every right to treat my daughter like that.. Jesus was telling me something different, and I needed to make things right. The girls had been asleep for at least 20 minutes, and I could see that Yessenia was sitting next to my bed, her back against the wall, her knees drawn up to her chest, and her head resting on her arms. I thought she was asleep but I knelt down and touched her face anyway to make sure. But instead of feeling closed eyes I felt wet cheeks, and I realized that there she had been that whole time silently crying because I had hurt her heart. That was when I realized how wrong I had been, and I said, ”Yessenia, I am so sorry that I did this to you.. it doesn’t matter how you are acting I have no right to treat you like that, will you forgive me?” and she nodded and came into my arms and I took her place sitting against that wall as I cradled her to sleep. And then as she finally slept, things made right between us, it was my turn to sit there and weep, and listen as God said to me, ”She’s MY daughter, and you don’t have the right to treat her any way that I wouldn’t.” I have been so careful, ever since that night, to be as gentle with my children as God is with me.. and that’s something I learned because of my relationship with Yessenia.
In those same months it was decided that Anahi was ready to move down to live with the older girls, which I found out when I went up to our room one day to find Anahi packing and crying and telling me she couldn’t stay with me anymore. I held her and let her go and then I sat alone on the stairs and cried because even though she was just going to be downstairs I felt like I was losing her as my daughter.. and it hurt. She would still come up to be with us before bed as we talked and prayed together, and I would still spend time with her one-on-one every week, and I would still sneak into her room at night to pray over her while she slept, but it was still a loss.
One day I was in the office when a woman came in to talk to our director about adopting a child. He told her that all adoptions were arranged through children’s services so she would need to talk to them, but that the only children he thought would be available to be adopted at that point were two little girls, sisters, who didn’t have any family claiming them. The woman left but a seed took root in my own heart. A seed that began to grow with a hope that those two little girls would someday be able to be adopted… by me. I already knew them, loved them, wanted them, and they already saw me as their Mami. So why not?
1 year and 9 months ago I was back to visit those children and especially all those little girls I still loved as my own. They were three weeks during which I laughed and played and colored and painted toenails and I also pulled each of my girls aside to apologize for hurting them when I had left. I had left in obedience to God but I know it was so hard for them, and it was so hard for me as well. One of the pictures I have of that time is of me with Anahi & Yessenia, and oh how many times have I hoped that we would forever see that picture as a prophecy of what was to come.. the three of us, forming a family.
1 year and 2 months ago again I was Mexico Home, still loving and being loved by all those girls. Still helping Anahi pick out her church clothes and still taking pictures of the girls together, sure that someday I would be back to finish what I had begun when it came to raising them. One morning Yessenia was picking out songs to play on my ipod, when all of the sudden she burst out in that beautiful ringing laughter of hers. She would look at my ipod, then cover it up as she burst into laughter, then peek again just to start laughing again. I went over to see what was making her laugh so silly-ly, only to start laughing myself when I saw that she was looking at Katy Perry’s album artwork, the album where she’s lying on the clouds in the nude. Oh Yessenia, so full of joy. I will forever be grateful to Katy Perry for making my daughter laugh like that, ahaha. = )
1 month ago I was again with my daughters, and for the whole week that I was there Yessenia followed me around like a little duck, still calling me Mami even after all this time.. and I kept thinking how I hope not much more time passes before God releases me to return to them and I can stay stay stay for the good of those girls. Anahi painted my fingernails in the most colorful and glittery way I could have imagined, and during our time together I kept dreaming of her future… going with her the day she chooses her wedding dress, walking with her as she waddles with a swollen pregnant belly, watching as my oldest daughter becomes a Mama herself. One night she was so sad, so I stayed with her and let her cry and cry and cry and I ended up staying the whole night beside her, because she is my daughter and she needed me there with her so of course that is where I would be. And then it was time for me to leave, again, as I’ve left them so many times before. I snuggled Yessenia to sleep but as I was wheeling my suitcase out of the room she was the one to wake up, and I hugged and kissed her goodbye one last time. She was so quiet but I know my little girl and I know that even though she doesn’t say much, she feels much… and I know she was hurting. Anahi insisted on coming with me to the bus station, and since she was still wide awake at midnight I let her come. As I hugged her one last time and I told her how much I love her she pressed a note into my hands, a letter filled with her own words of love for me.
3 weeks ago I was with my own Mama and my sister, and my sister mentioned how much she loves the name Yessenia, and maybe would like to name her daughter that. She’s familiar with the name because of all my stories over the years of my girls, and so my response was a bit snappy, ”but I already have a daughter named Yessenia.” and when she pointed out that I hadn’t adopted them or anything, I spoke aloud something I’d been guarding in my heart for a long, long time. ”I plan to adopt her.”
I was speaking the truth, a plan of mine that had grown big and strong from that seed planted years ago. I had prayed and prayed and prayed and had considered all of the logistics and researched how I could make it into a reality. I knew that unless the law made an exception for us, in order for me to adopt the girls I would need to marry a Mexican at least 2 1/2 years older than myself within the next seven years, or move to Mexico within the next year and pursue citizenship. I’ve been like a wild Mama Bear, searching for ways to keep them close. But even though I knew that adoption might not be possible, there was one thing I’ve been certain of… that I would return to them, and that I would spend the rest of my life being a Mother to them, legally or not.
I had never questioned that. I knew they had no family claiming them, and I knew that what I want more than anything is to be their forever Mama. I know them, you see. & I love them. I know that Anahi is so sensitive and sweet and can be so needy just like anyone else, but she’s also become quite independent and she needs her space. I know that Yessenia loves to be snuggled and she still loves me to sing to her that she’s my sunshine. I know that Anahi dresses up for special occasions because she’s expected to but that really she’s rather be wearing pants and playing soccer. I know she loves blue even though she wears a lot of pink. I know Yessenia struggled for a long time to learn how to read but now she’s reading like a boss, and listening to her read was one of my favorite things I did with her this winter. I know that Anahi remembers her mom while Yessenia doesn’t, I know that Anahi was a protective older sister when they lived together in the street and that she still feels that same protective-ness when it comes to her sister, even though a lot of times they don’t seem so close anymore. I know that both girls are incredibly compassionate, and I remember hearing both of them pray often for kids living in the street. I know Yessenia is self-conscious about her teeth and I know Anahi is still as responsible & hardworking as she was 3 years ago.
& I know I love those girls just as much as I will love any babies born out of this belly.. and I know that is how I will forever love them.
9 days ago I was here in Colombia, busy busy busy, measuring flour and beating together butter & sugar, whipping groceries into cupcakes when I saw I had received a text message from one of the directors in Mexico. I saw my daughters’ names and I knew. I hadn’t even read the message but I knew, and I fell down on the floor and I knelt there shaking and crying and reading through my tears what I had known when I saw their names.
Anahi & Yessenia were taken to a different orphanage, and they are possibly going to be adopted.
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.
I stayed there on the floor shaking and crying because no, no, no, no, no…
God.. you know how much I want them.
How could You do this to me?
I felt my friend kneel beside me on the floor and I let her read the message and when I said, but I want them.. she knew what I meant because I had spoken my dream to her before. She stayed with me there, hugging me as I cried and I kept thinking no. no no no no no no no.
I know now, as I knew then in that moment on the floor, that this could be something so beautiful for them. This could be an answer to my prayers for a family for them. This could be God redeeming a broken situation and making it so whole again.
I know that.
But that doesn’t make it hurt any less.
Because I was so sure, I was so sure God had given them to me 3 years ago to be my daughters forever. I had never considered otherwise. I had hoped, and that hope had grown big and strong and beautiful and it was in bloom and blossoming more every time I heard the word ”Mami” from Yessenia and every time I saw how Anahi sought me out to receive a Mama’s love & comfort.
I kept baking but I couldn’t stop crying, and then later that night on the bus my friend fell asleep beside me but she woke up when she felt me shaking and crying beside her. And she looked at me in a way that I knew meant she was giving me permission to share what I was feeling with her. To bear with me in my sorrow. So I spoke. I spoke of my girls, their beauty, their joy, and all of the hopes my heart holds for them and all of the fears as well. And she said nothing, she just listened, and it was what I needed.
It’s unsettling, I know, but what I feel most right now is betrayal. I feel that God has betrayed me. He knew. He knew how much I wanted them but He gave them to someone else. He knew they weren’t going to be forever mine but He let me hope for them anyway. God, how could You?
And why am I not good enough to be their Mami forever?
When I finally went to Him with what I felt, I sat down on a bench in a park filled with pigeons and I took comfort in their cooing. I was listening to my ipod on shuffle when all of the sudden the song that came on was the one I had been listening to on repeat since I had read their names and fell on the floor. And when I heard that song I knew Jesus was saying, ”it’s okay. it’s okay to cry. it’s okay to be angry with me. it’s okay to mourn. your burden is not too much for me… you are not too much for me.”
So I cried, again. And Jesus sat with me and let me… and He didn’t remind me that His plans are perfect, or that He’s working this out for our good, or that He knows and loves my girls more than I do. He just let me mourn, and it was what I needed.
& then a friend in Mexico who also loves those girls asked me how I am. He knew, he knew exactly what I was feeling but he asked anyway because he cares. I didn’t answer right away, because what I was feeling was heavy heavy stuff I was sure nobody wanted to be a part of hearing, but he asked again. So I let it out, I let it all out and you know what he said? “Entiendo.” I understand. And it was what I needed, because in that word I again felt permission to grieve. Because it’s okay to be angry, and sad, and devastated, and it’s okay to not be ready to let go.
So here I am. Grieving.
I might never hear Yessenia laugh again, and it hurts. I might not see Anahi get married, and it hurts. My family might never meet them, and it hurts. They might be separated, and it hurts. They might be placed in a family that won’t love them well, and I might not ever even know, and it hurts.
And right now I can’t focus on the beauty of this situation.. I’m just not ready. And that’s okay.
I can’t end these words today by wrapping it up with something pretty like tying a box up with ribbon. Because it’s still a mess. I’m still a mess.. and that’s okay. God can handle my smashed up dreams and the fact that I’m sad for myself even though something good and redemptive is probably happening for my daughters, and God can handle the fact that I’m feeling so angrily, wretchedly, betrayed by Him, and God can handle the fact that yesterday I broke glass bottles all over my bedroom floor because I just needed to, and God can handle the fact that I feel I have no passion for these children in front of me because I’m feeling it all for Anahi, and God can handle the fact that today I felt like screaming at my Colombian child to shut up, because his joy was reminding me too much of Yessenia’s and I just miss her so. damn. much. And God can handle the fact that I am an emotional roller coaster.. that when I start laughing my laughter turns to sobs instead. I am not too much for Him. My brokenness laying all over the bedroom floor like smashed up pieces of glass is not too much for Him. & God is present with me here, even in this.