by Jenny Brown
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. –Romans 8:14-17
The first time I meet my daughter Miranda is in a small, stuffy room in Guangzhou, China. We are waiting with seven other American families, also meeting their babies today. Everything is strange here. It smells vaguely of perfume and food, not baby powder or diapers. All the officials are speaking in serious Chinese, which none of us understands. We can hear babies crying: are those our babies? Someone else’s? Shouldn’t we know our own baby’s cry?
This is the culmination of a very long process: months of paperwork and seals and couriers and waiting and travel; years of struggle with loss and infertility. We have been thinking about nothing but this for over a year. And now it is time. The shift from hope to joy is almost unbearable; it is too unfamiliar.
With no fanfare (shouldn’t there be fanfare?) a door opens, and a woman from the orphanage holds out an eight-month-old baby. What baby? Whose baby? That baby doesn’t look like mine at all, but then all I have is a two-inch square picture from four months ago, and babies change so fast. The woman calls a Chinese name. No. Not our baby. Oh, God, I think. What if I don’t recognize my own daughter?
Another woman comes out with another little girl. I scrutinize her from across the room. Mine? Maybe? I hear the name and felt slightly dizzy: no, not mine. Another. The room is full of parents and babies now, cameras flashing. A child reaches out to touch her new mother’s blonde curls, bewildered: she’s never seen that before. Kisses. Tears. Another baby. Another. Not mine.
And then a different woman comes in with a baby in her arms. The whole room goes quiet, or it does for me. I know her immediately. Oh, there she is, I think, my whole body relaxing. Oh. That’s the one I love.
* * *
I ask my eight-year-old daughter to set the table for dinner. She is on the couch reading a book: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory this time, but it could just as well be The Phantom Tollbooth or one of the Boxcar Children mysteries or some fairy tales or All-of-a-Kind Family or Little Town on the Prairie or the back of a toothpaste tube. She drags herself off the couch, still reading. Two knives, one page. Three forks, one page. A glass, one page. Two more knives. A napkin. Two pages. If she could get away with it, she would hide under the bed and finish the book and forget about dinner. She asked for black high-top Converse sneakers because they were like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s black, high button shoes. I am seeing my own childhood unroll before my eyes.
Oh, there she is. That’s the one I love.
* * *
On good days, I think this must be how God feels about us, all his adopted children, coming to him and crying Abba, Father. Sometimes this relationship forms in total unfamiliarity – we come to him with a different language, a different culture than his culture of love and mercy. We come to him with our violence and jealousy, our needs and desires and blindness, our inability to ask for anything God would choose for us. Yet he still knows us as his children, knows us unhesitatingly, swiftly, choosing us over and over again. And sometimes he knows us because we are like him, made in his image: creative, conscious, remorseful, loving, grateful. All that he has is ours; being adopted makes no difference to that inheritance of joy and life everlasting. He holds us in his arms, each soul a tiny bewildered baby, and says, There you are. You are the one I love.
Jenny Brown teaches French in Whitworth University’s World Languages & Cultures Department. She reads while cooking, while running, while talking on the phone to her mother, and is working on a solution to reading while asleep.