In July of 2008, I found myself standing on frosted clay at sunrise in Alabanza. The air was crisp and we were more than two thirds way to the kingdom of Swaziland. Perhaps it was the look on our faces, or perhaps years of wisdom that made our housekeepers next words a speech to remember. Whichever it was is rather irrelevant, but his words were not.
“People think they are coming to Africa to save it. But look” he said, pointing to the open landscape before us. “Look at the beauty here. Africa does not need you to save it” he said. “But Africa just might save you”.
The weeks that followed our dusty ride into the kingdom of Swaziland are their own story, but in the words of our housekeeper we echo now we know that Africa changed us forever. While there are countless moments that led up to the birth of the dream in my heart – from heart pullings since childhood to planning to stepping on a plane alone at seventeen to cross the globe- there is a moment that sears my mind to this day as the pinnacle.
It was late morning and late July. We had stopped at the city orphanage for our final goodbyes where smiles, plastic ice cream bags and children spanned the play grounds. It was sunny that day as that shutter of a dear friend clicked to remember the things we were too afraid to forget. Remember them, I continued to hush to myself. Remember.
Dolly appeared from the far home alone that day, and took a seat in the umber dust as she leaned against a concrete slab. I had been looking for her. Much like myself, she was a watcher, often on the periphery and always alone. Perhaps thats why I connected with her despite our language barrier. I sat beside her that day, and that was that. We sat and watched together as the world in front us spun with laughter. It was a holy hour that I can not describe with words other than this: to share life itself beside another is a holy occasion.
It dawned on me as I saw the sun get lower that my moments left with her were few. I began to try to tell her I was leaving, but words fell like clunky sounds the same as any others. I can’t just disappear on her. I can not be another person that disappears without telling her. I searched the crowd for a translator with no avail, and looked down at my sneakers now nervously pushing dirt from the earth as it dawned on me: we share sight.
With my right index finger I began pulling hard lines in the dust before us. A figure of me. A figure of her. Then an airplane. She lifted her hand to wave, and I nodded. She signaled an arrow back from the plane, and forward. Of to the right, I drew my house. In the blank space between, she patted her hands in the dust.
“Mountains”. I said, drawing three peaks. “Many mountains”. Then I pointed to my heart and to her; to my heart, and to her as tears began to fill my eyes. ” I will remember you” I said. “I will remember”.
Some say we write our own dreams as our life unfolds, but this one I believe was born in me. And I was lucky enough to meet Dolly, who woke the dream in me up beneath the Mbabane sun. It’s hard to say at exactly what moment I knew that adopting was a part of my life calling. It may have started during the summer days I got to swim with a neighbor’s foster children in my grandmothers pool, or when my parents began their own foster journey. It may have started when I pulled two young children – Knobele and Piwee – from an abandoned truck off the side of a road, or when I held Luke – a one pound baby found in a nearby trash can- in the boiler room of the children’s ward. What I know for sure is that as I drew those mountains in the dust that day beside Dolly, a longing carved in my heart that I could never forget. A longing for a homecoming that wasn’t just my own.
Five years later Georgia began to tell stories of adopting siblings and opening a home with never less than a hundred children. Two years after that Gabriel found himself in a similar moment in Kenya as the dream of adoption wrote itself into his heart. And two more years after that we found ourselves riding a bus into the rainforest region on Costa Rica and discussing how many children we’d like. Adoption was a non-negotiable for us both, and the birth of the homecoming story had been woven.
Gabriel and I went on to marry in the fall of 2018, but our hearts were set on adoption long before they were ever set on each other. As we tied together a cord of three strands that day before God and witnesses and became a family of three, these words sang over us in the background:
“Old things have passed away, your love has stayed the same. Your constant grace remains the cornerstone. The hopeless have found their hope; the orphans now have a home. All that was lost has found its place in you. You lift our weary heads; you make us strong instead. You took these rags and made us beautiful. For all that you’ve done we will pour out our love, this will be our anthem song. Jesus we love you.”
Let this be our anthem song:
Jesus saved us. Love changed us. Adoption made us one.
We are ready to cross many mountains again to bring home our son the way we each have been brought home to one another. As we set out we will remember what changed us. We will remember who brought us here. We will remember the birth of our dream.