What will she be called? This was the first question I was asked when I received my daughter. “We are so glad she is returning to a family.” The young man in the Civil Affairs office spoke the words he had no doubt uttered for every adoption he presided over. Then, his glazed eyes cleared. The staunch look of duty was replaced by a moment of true sight. He paused for a moment to take in Abigail’s shorn head nestled in the wrap where I wore her over my heart. His voice softened,”Yes, we are glad she is returning to a family.” Those words echo in my memory, they play around the corners of my dreams. I hear them in my sleep. They have become a part of me, just as Abigail has. I cannot forget them. I wish to remember them, to pull them back in closer and hear them clearly when I am weary, “Return to a family.”
A few months ago I almost thought I had heard that phrase again when I realized that I had actually read it! There, tucked between “physical development” and “laboratory results” of Lillianna’s referral was that phrase again. “She is a lovely child. We hope she can return to a family and be happy.” A lovely child she is indeed, a delicate angel, and while meditating over this I realized the very concept of returning to something implies that relationship once existed. For, one can only return to something from whence she came.
My precious children both came from family, probably very loving family who longed to keep them. The babies of China do not blossom in gardens or fall like stars. Contrary to their referral paperwork and orphanage files, they do have a history, an origin, with aspects of their lineage that makes them unique and special, the evidence of a marvelous creation. Yet, when babies are taken into custody and care, all of this dematerializes.
Like the scent of their mother’s last embrace the previous identity of the new baby vanishes. The rupture of the first relationship loosens the thread of life deep within and it dangles. The new arrival is given a name, a moniker of sorts, perhaps the next in a line of characters in a Mandarin dictionary or something that denotes physical appearance. The given names are often used over and over again, in a cycle for each new set of babies. As my dear friend describes it, ” Her name truly meant Orphan.”
One of the tragedies of the fatherless is a complete loss of identity. This is the state in which my daughter was handed to me, a most beautiful babe with no identity other than a police Certificate of an Abandoned Baby to prove her legal eligibility for new parentage. Herein lies the miracle of adoption. Just as in that moment when we receive Jesus the Son, and the Heavenly Father grafts us in to His family forever, so is the orphaned child redeemed at the moment of adoption.
The love of the family who enfolds the fatherless and ushers them into the fullness of relationship renewed, restores unto that child identity, presence and worth. In that very moment the baby shifts from the realm of the invisible into one of recognition within her own culture. She has, in effect, been restored and the threads of her identity can be rewoven, no longer left to dangle. The unknown becomes known, the questions answered, Hope is rekindled for she has “returned to a family” . She has been given a name! Redemptive love has opened the door to a bright tomorrow at last!
In just a matter of twenty-four hours, the single, stark, Certificate of an Abandoned Baby, is joined with a joyful Certificate of Birth, a Certificate of Adoption and a Chinese passport, the ultimate in identification forms from the child’s own country. This is the gift of adoption. This is the beauty and fullness of saying “Yes” to one waiting face, to your child’s worried and wondering eyes. This is the gift of hope. This is what it means to “return to a family” and I pray I will never forget it. Thank you for helping our sweet Lillianna Grace, our lovely child, “return to family”. Thank you for hearing the heartbeat of the fatherless. Thank you for being the hands and feet of Love to carry one more waiting child home to the embrace of family forever.