Tonight was a game changer. A totally unplanned, impromptu, let's get out and get to know each other better game changer.
God said go...laugh a little, do what she wants to do. Let her have coke and you some wine. Enjoy each other's company and listen with an open heart.
So, we went. To a local Ethiopian restaurant where the sights, smells, and sounds were home-sweet-home. I watched happily as Big Sister sniffed and listened her way back to Ethiopia. I was filled with joy. Filled with sorrow.
Transitions are tough. Grief is tough. Healing from a hurt past is tough. Parenting five kids is tough. Being immersed in an English classroom, when your primary language is Amharic, for nearly seven hours per day is tough. Trying to help Big Sister with her homework after her brain has already been fried for the day is tough. Trying to balance the demands of marriage, parenting, school, and extra-curricular activities is tough. In short, life is tough. For all of us. 1 Corinthians 15:58 tells us, "Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain."
And I absolutely believe that. I believe that God's heart for the orphan is undeniable. You don't have to take my word for it, ask anyone on this journey. I believe that this work will never ever be in vain. God is so amazingly close to the orphan that I feel his presence like never before. His mercies are new each day and his love is unfailing. But, it's still tough. Every day. Sometimes minute by minute. And so we went out for some laughs and fun.
And. it. was. fun. But is was also something else. It was a safe space from Big Sister to open up to me, her mom, and share whatever was on her mind. On her heart. To not feel pressured by the demands of school or learning English or fitting in socially or measuring up to anyone. And, share she did.
Somewhere between taking our first bite and asking for refill, she started talking about her brother. The one she adores. The one closest to her heart. The one 8000 miles away. The one she may never see again. She told me all about him and how he looked out for her. When it was 8:00 pm, he made sure she was indoors and out of harms way. He taught her that nothing good happened on the streets after 8:00 and because she loved him and respected him, she listened. She went indoors and stayed out of harms way. She told me many other stories. Heartbreaking stories. Healing stories. I listened fervently. I prayed silently. I sat in awe of God's faithfulness. How he works the details when we are willing to be obedient.
I saw her fidgeting. She fidgets a lot. She was gearing up for something, so I sat still. Patiently. Taking in my surrounding and missing Ethiopia. Her smells and sounds. Her beautiful people. I sipped my Tej and she her coca. I took another bite of gomen and miser wat folded inside injera. We were eating from a shared plate. My vegetables surrounding her tibs. I adore eating this way. It is so very intimate.
"Mom," she said. "You and your sister. You miss your mom, right? Sometimes you cry because she die." "Yes, of course," I said. "I miss my mom a lot. A whole lot." "Mom," she said. "I miss my mather too." "Mom?" Tears were now overflowing from her eyes. "Yes?" I asked. "Mom....is my mather dead? Did she die? How will I know? She very sick, mom. She die soon. How will we know?"
Now, we were both crying. I told her I would do everything I could to find out her mother's health status. I encouraged her to write a letter even though her birth mother had prepared her for the permanence of her adoption and more or less told her to move on, do what she needs to do, and simply pray for her. I believe she was taught to suppress her emotions, as a sign of strength. A cultural norm, more or less. Conversely, I teach her to express them. I am so very thankful when I can see an outward sign, any sign, of what is going on inside.
She told me she would write a letter. I promised her it would get delivered.
By this point, Big Sister was happy to have had a coca, our meal was finished, and I was slowly finishing up my Tej, a "deceptively sweet wine that masks its high alcohol content." It tastes like Ethiopia. It was yummy and I was feeling lighter. Too light, actually. So, we walked across the street to a local Christian bookstore.
The rest of our night was filled with something we have oddly enough yet to do: bonding via shopping. The Tej had me feeling good and I let her indulge. A devotional book or three? Sure! A DVD? Why not? Throw a few CDs in too. Sunglasses? Find two pairs!
We left the store and headed to a hair salon. While at the restaurant, we were told of a local Ethiopian woman who could relax and style Big Sister's hair the way she has been asking.
Unfortunately, by the time we made it to the salon they were closed for the evening. However, I think we both had a wonderful evening with Christ, enjoying food, drink, music, good company, and a few consumables.
We grew closer. I can feel it. She came hope happy and relaxed. Will we still have many trials ahead? No doubt! However, I need to learn to listen more intently to God's voice telling us it's OK to take a break. To relax and enjoy. To sit and listen. To sip drinks that we adore. To not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself (Matthew 6:34).
Father God, I thank you for the special gift you gave us tonight. The gift of enjoying one-on-one time that is so hard to manage in our daily lives. The gift of safe spaces and open hearts. The gift of intimate connections and healing. The gift of your heart for the orphan and how that has so transformed every aspect of our daily living. Thank you, God, for all that we see and all that is unseen. Thank you for my daughter! Thank you for her mother! Help me to love and cherish them the way that you do.