It is a Sunday morning and I stand, tears streaming down my face, singing in the darkened sanctuary of our home church with your wiggling body beside me.
This is what you do, this is what you do
You make me come alive
We sing about Jesus and about how His love brings us alive, how as he meets us in our broken, wounded, betrayed, sad, lonely places – he pours sun and water and better soil into us and the seeds placed in us at conception – the seeds of glory, the glory we were made for – begin to sprout and bloom. In this room I am surrounded by just such people – a whole army of the wounded who are now wonders. And there at my feet, you jump, your whole body coming alive into the wonder of the music, the joy of the song, your feet dancing whether you want to or not – but oh, how you want to.
And you are the one who has come alive, ever-more-alive since I met you four months ago. Each day you astound me – and I know there is so much more to come.
I watch you unfurl, your petals showing more and more of their true texture and color. You, the child who came home only copying whatever picture I drew first for you, who would tell me you did not know how to draw anything. Now you draw alone, filling creativity books with your own creations. And soon, soon your art will tell your stories.
I remember how at first you did not know even the meaning of legos. You watched me lay brick upon brick and saw the finished products of planes and cars and you played briefly with those planes and cars and then walked away. Now you have learned to create masterpieces, huge mansions filled with your own ideas, jungle ropes turned into dog leashes, small boxes turned into ovens – you create miniature worlds of your own imagining and you manipulate the people inside to walk, laugh, talk and eat. This, this is a miracle to those who have eyes to see.
We stroll the aisles of Costco, you in the cart as always, and I recall how our first trip there you were so excited by the double-seat carts and you wanted Naomi (fourteen year old Naomi) to sit next to you inside. You do not notice that other nine year olds do not sit in shopping carts. Instead, following your developmental paradigm, you play the role of toddler in the cart, instinctively meeting your needs for attachment and imaginative play. I am so proud of you. I hand you tortillas to put in the cart and instead of neatly stacking each and every thing as you would have two months ago, you grab those tortillas and make them into your steering wheel, driving crazy across the wide aisles. You tell me in Chinese that you are a bad driver and you giggle a little wickedly as I laugh loud.
Every moment is a chance to learn – you are like an expert collector, picking up artifacts for this new life and language. I think only you and I see how hard you work, how in every conversation we fill in the many holes for you. I watch you pick up new English like shiny pebbles, turning them over in your mind, finding a place for them so they will be accessible again. And I join you in the fight to remember your first languages, to hold your culture close through your words.
As you learn this new language, last sounds are hard and at first I only praise you for knowing the word. “ba” for box, “sta” for stop. Now I follow my own instincts and begin to quietly repeat the word with emphasis on the last sound. “Put it in the box” I say and you repeat “ba” as I gently remind you “boxxxx”. I learn that you can hear the sound if I say “sta -puh” instead of stop and slowly you begin to remember to say more of the sounds. Your ears did not grow up hearing this way – so it is so much more work for you. But you choose to attack this challenge with the intelligence and fearlessness you bring to most of life. Again, I am such a proud mama.
We must tell you a thousand days “you’re so cute!” and beautiful and pretty and smart. At first you would just say “mayo” (don’t have, nothing) or “mela” (done, enough, finished) in quick response, brushing off those compliments almost faster than we could give them. Now you have learned not only to receive but to speak our language and tell the kitties “you’re so CUTE” when they really are. You admire a painting and repeat in breathless wonder, enunciating in exactly my way, ” so BEAUTIFUL!” And when the woman behind you tells you “you’re so cute” you say thank you and prance for a while. It’s like those words, once so easily brushed off and ignored, have found a home and are going in and doing deep and wonderful work. I ask you, “Ava, do you know you’re so very cute?” and you say with that deep breath first ” aaah . . . . uh-yeeaa!” And you do; I’m so glad.
You want so hard to always be right, to always be fast, to always be praised. And that is part of our hard work of becoming family. Because here in the Pierce family we do not value achievement as much as we do relationship. We praise effort just as much as accomplishment. And however much you try we never love you more because of what you succeed in.
At the same time you struggle to tell me what you want or need and sometimes I have to require it of you, asking you to say “Mama, I’m hungry” or “I want more”, instead of your typical humble wait to be noticed. In this family we feel our needs and speak them out, expecting that others wish to meet them but may not anticipate them. You hate to tell me what you don’t like and instead when asked will simply say “hung hao” (very good) in a faint voice instead of the eager one that signifies real enjoyment. I am teaching you that it is okay not to like things, but that sometimes we eat a little anyway.
You tell me, conspiratorially in the bath, that in China EVERYONE has black hair and eyes. I listen closely. I teach you that you are Chinese, and excitedly we see Chinese everywhere, in quality control labels and on the backs of food boxes, printed on restaurant walls and in bilingual books from the library. We see little Chinese babies at church and we marvel at their beauty. At first you were afraid to be different, afraid of your ethnicity in this strange new world. Now you proudly tell me how your Chinese nose does not fit the play glasses you try on and how your Chinese tummy sometimes does not like our food. When we see Chinese women, we notice how beautiful they are with their almond eyes and shiny black hair. I could choose to feel a little jealous of the first beautiful Chinese mother you had, the one who shared your DNA, the one you must resemble. Instead I choose to celebrate her, and you.
This is the miracle I stand silent witness to every day. The world, thoughtless, spinning by. I see, like one of those speed-enhanced stop motion flower pictures, how you are constantly growing, constantly changing, constantly becoming all you were made for. And I marvel.