I know an extraordinary family who adopted a special-needs daughter from the Ukraine. Their story left me moved and shaken at the same time. Against a backdrop of real darkness and deprivation, it is a story of courage, patience, faith and extraordinary redemption made possible only by love. At the time of her adoption, their daughter had survived a seemingly impossible reality. I hesitate to tell her story, because I feel as if the details of it are hers and her family’s to share. Let it suffice to say that her first years would challenge anyone’s most basic notions of mental, physical, emotional and spiritual limits. Twenty-three of the twenty-four hours of the day, her crib was her entire world. Contact with others was neither regular nor tender. At the time of her adoption she was five years old and weighed less than a healthy toddler. She had never learned to walk and after years of profound neglect, her legs lay atrophied, her mind hopelessly unstimulated and her heart left to fend for itself in the most austere conditions. It was a reality both heartbreaking and hard to imagine.
The day she was adopted – – the day all the papers were signed and she no longer belonged to the orphanage – – there would have been no way for her to understand or anticipate how quickly and drastically her reality would change. Nothing would ever be the same again.
It is common for orphans who have been severely neglected and malnourished to hoard food, and Lena was no exception. Once adopted, it took her a long time to figure out the new supply of food would not end. It was hard for her to imagine she would not be returning to hunger and that scarcity would no longer be a part of her new paradigm. So she continued to take her food with her from the table…tightly guarded fistfuls of just-in-case.
When Ginny and Matt Mooney adopted her, literally from one day to the next, love would explode into her world through a thousand different methods of delivery: tenderness, gentle hands, warm caresses, soft voices, a secure embrace, song, nourishing foods, a new and changing environment, attention and proximity…the list would go on and on and each day her experience would expand to include more and more stimuli that didn’t threaten, deprive, hurt, or leave her wanting. Doors of communication would swing open revealing just how desperately she had wanted to be heard. And life began anew. Lena was reborn into a new reality – – but her behavior lagged behind as she struggled with the memory and conditioning of her first five years. Lena’s past had etched an automatic response of “brace yourself” through which she experienced every new thing. It would take years for that response to soften.
I think that is such an amazing mirror of my life as a Christian. I do what Lena did. I give my life to God but go right on behaving as if the rules haven’t changed. I go on “hoarding my Cheerios,” clinging to the safety my old ways – – my fear, my worry, my gluttony, my need to be right or be in control, and all the other constructs that made me feel safe from the world and people in it – – and I forget, God has my back now. He’s the one in charge now. He is the supplier of all that I will ever need, and I can rest in Him, trust Him, and have confidence in his faithfulness. The truth is, a life of faith and reliance upon a Sovereign, omnipotent God (who loves me) is my new and irrevocable reality.
In the process – – and for me it is a process – -of giving my life to God, just like Lena, I have clung to some of my former ways at times for no other reason than their patterns are comfortable and well worn, and in other instances simply because I am insisting on my own way.
But God tells me I can let go of my old ways. I really can. He tells me I can use the power of His Spirit in me to start doing things differently. In this new reality of being God’s, I will never be wanting in the things He chooses to provide – – which are the things that will lead me to the life He has prepared for me. I may not get what I want – – but I will always get what I need. Can I lean into that reality? Am I willing to trust God’s love for me – – his path for me?
The most profound love I have ever experienced is the way I love my children. It’s sacrificial love, it’s the kind of love that screams, “You first.” It’s the kind of love that transcends, well, everything. It’s a love that sees the heart, the potential the promise. It is a love that sees beyond performance. It is love unhinged from reason or evidence, grounded in something truly Divine. It is an entity powerful and unstoppable because of what IT is. Love is a wildly powerful thing. To me, love is evidence of the supernatural right here on earth. It has a life of its own, and an endless supply and I have no doubt it is of God. I love how the book of Romans describes God’s love for us:
38 neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus…
I think somewhere along the line I have been unable to see God’s love as something FOR-me-not-because-of-me and as a result I have been stubborn and slow in simply receiving it rather than trying to earn it. Instead of focusing on God’s love, I focus on how I fall short of deserving that love. But that’s not God’s voice – – that is mine. “There is no condemnation in Christ.” That means when a voice of condemnation enters my head – – which it does on a regular basis, I am to simply dismiss it and move on, because it is not of God.
God is for me. In a big way. He is my champion. He WANTS me to experience joy and peace. He wants me to experience His love. And He loves me in a way wholly disconnected from me having to earn it. I always think of it like my girls. I will love them no matter what. I won’t be able to help myself. I will protect them, nurture them, tell them the truth, root for them, support them, and be there for them as long as I am able. I will always want what is best for them. I will always love them. That’s how God loves me, only more so.
When the kids were toddlers and weaving and bobbing all over the place as they tried to navigate from place to place, I never admonished, “Walk straight.” I never grew impatient when I fed them in their high chairs and their hands and faces got full of food. That’s just where they were. To the contrary, I actually found it charming and adorable. I never expected more than they were able to give and it was their very vulnerability and dependence that drew me in even closer in love and support and encouragement.
I think that’s how God sees me….but I forget that. And I am my only harsh task master. I am the only one yelling, “Do it better, do it faster, do it right.” God is not there yelling. He’s the guy taking pictures, making memories with me, watching me navigate my world like I used to watch my toddlers navigate theirs. God is the one loving me through it, saying, “Take your time, you’ll see it eventually, I am right there with you, just keep putting one foot in front of the other…trust Me, don’t worry about doing it perfectly and in fact how about not worrying about anything at all. Let Me do the heavy lifting – – how about you just come and spend time with Me – – sit with Me, abide in Me, rest in Me….put your head on my shoulder and let Me pat your back and rock you to sleep, because I love you and I want relationship with you and out of that place all the rest will happen….”
God loves me THAT way, perfectly. He loves me that way while at the same time knowing every hair on my head. He knows me even more profoundly than I know my own girls. He knows me through and through – – no secrets, not a single thought concealed. He actually knows the me I work so hard to spiff up and present to the world… He knows me totally unadorned – – at all my most vulnerable and true and dear and beautiful and ugly. He knows me. Unfiltered. And He LOVES me.
I am enough. I am enough. I am enough. I don’t need to keep trying. I never need to earn His love. It’s already mine, and He has already demonstrated how much He loves me and wants communion with me by what Christ did for me on the cross. He has built that indestructible, forever-accessible bridge, and all I need to do is walk across, decide to believe (and it is a choice), ask Him to come into my life and transform me, more and more into His likeness over time (His time, not mine) and trust that He is doing just that. All I need to want is Him.
I am loved by God in ways I cannot fathom. My challenge is to live based on THAT reality. My challenge is to remember I am no longer in the orphanage – – that I have been adopted into the family of God and my new Father’s love for me is both infinite and immeasurable. So let me rest in the truth of that unconditional adoption. Let me live in the very center of God’s incandescent and inextinguishable love.
To learn more about Ginny and Matt Moody, their family and their foundation, 99 Balloons, please visit www.99balloons.org. Nothing short of inspiring.