"Mom, why you got us?"
Good question. Why would a busy, 40-something, financially insecure couple still shaking their heads over the arrival of a mid-life surprise baby stretch the family wineskin so that 4- and 6-year-old boys from the city could be poured into the mix?
"Why you got us?"
The answer has been repeated over and again: "The people who visited your old home thought that you looked sad and needed someone to love you, and God gave us two little boys to love."
The fuller reality is more simple and complex: It was God's idea.
Two summers ago, Mary and I were nudged by a strange leading that she should quit her job as a nurse manager. This was curious, as we were just getting by. Still, the nudge persisted, growing more insistent by turns. So we softened. We would dial it down by degrees. She would reduce her work days gradually. We would take it at a reasonable pace. We would ... have a week from the pit, as everything that could go wrong seemed to.
"What's going on?" I asked God one afternoon, while holding my infant daughter.
The word of the Lord came. "You're not listening to me."
Mary gave her notice the next day. Two days later, we received an email about two little boys who were awaiting placement. They arrived the day after Mary's last official day of work, taken from their home that morning, wearing their new baseball caps, fresh off a three-hour drive and clutching the stuffed animals they had been given.
"Hotels are for people who don't have houses."
About a month after their arrival we packed the whole family up for a weekend basketball tournament a few hours away. Their older sister would be playing, I would be coaching and the hotel room was free. It would be fun.
It was a disaster. They thought we had moved. They thought we weren't going back. They thought their new older brother (who hadn't made the trip) was lost to them. There were a few good moments, but relief was the feeling when it ended. Home, we were learning, is a far different concept for those without one.
Mary (to Lionel as Norris napped): "I'm sorry I got angry with you this morning. Even when I get angry with you, I still love you."
L: "So you'll keep me, forever and ever?"
Mary: "Forever and ever, and then you'll go to college."
L: "But I don't know where college is!"
Mary: "Well, there are a lot to choose from."
L: "Okay, how about a red one?"
The ending is the joke, but the first two sentences are the reality for many adoptive families. Obviously I do not speak for all of them, but I can say from our experience that the process of grafting traumatized children into your own family tree is emotive and exhausting. Children from a troubled past can delight, inspire, confuse, frustrate and yes, anger, the family striving to love them. In short, they can treat their parents the same way that we treat God; rejecting and resisting the one who loves us for fear that he really doesn't.
Only God can say forever, but, God willing, we will remain devoted to Norris and Lionel until they leave for a red college.
"Daddy, why did you leave me?"
They boys had been with us for about six months when friends arranged a one-night getaway for Mary and I to celebrate her birthday. We prepared the boys. We kept them among friends and family. We kept them in their own beds. Our getaway was five minutes away, and we took them to it at each end of our sojourn.
They had called us Mom and Dad from the start but never "Daddy" until we "left" them for a night, producing a follow-up evening of deviance, clinging and tears. Home was more than a house, and our one night was one night for them to relive abandonment. Forever can be tough to pull off.
"Boys we're in Canada now!"
"Where are the mooses?"
Apparently they thought that "mooses" would be milling about the moment we crossed Peace Bridge. I allowed the thought that packing up all seven of us into a borrowed Suburban for a 500 mile one-way trip to the cottage of a friend was the height of craziness. After all, that basketball tournament thing had gone real, real, well. So let's quintuple the distance, sextuple the stay and take our boundary-issue boys to an island.
For the first few days, I deemed my craziness correct.
"I feel like we've imported home to Canada," our oldest son commented.
Indeed, every issue from 202 Licking St. seemed writ large in the Georgian Bay.
But something emerged as the week unfolded. To this day, I can't put my finger on it, but being somewhere else, as a family, seemed to solidify the concept of home. Home was now us, no matter the place. The re-entry that I feared was no more than a blip on a screen as the boys played with all their toys, snuggled in their beds and asked to look at their bikes through the window since the rain was preventing a ride.
A few days ago Norris got on the Statewide Adoption Network website and selected three children we should add to our family.
"Because they need a home."
That won't be happening at present, but I took it as grace that Norris recognized what he had ... and someone else needed.
Our lives are overflowing with love, laundry, late nights, dishes, dissonance, joy, jangled nerves, hugs and heartache. They will be officially ours on Nov. 21, but they were ours a long time before that.
This was God's idea. We are together. We are home.
Andy Meiser is pastor of the Eshcol Brethren in Christ Church in Ickesburg.