It’s been five years since I walked into a civil affairs building on the other side of the world and a stranger was placed in my arms. Five years since her wide, wary eyes looked up at mine, terrified, and my hopeful eyes looked down at hers, pleading, “Could I please have the privilege of being your mother?” Her answer? She turned her head to search for anything familiar, found nothing, and cried.
It’s been five years since I was hit square in the face with all the things I didn’t know, like the meaning behind her different cries, or why she tapped her forehead with the backs of her fingers, or who had loved her before. I didn’t know how to make her bottle or how to make her laugh. I didn’t know the best way to hold her or soothe her, or if I would ever earn her trust. I definitely didn’t know if better days were ahead. It’s been five years since I held her in one hand and a pen in the other, and despite all I didn’t know, I promised to give her all of me—my heart, my home, my name. No matter what. No looking back.
For the last five years, we’ve waltzed: safety-trust-rest, safety-trust-rest, round and round, awkward at first, yet adding a little more confidence to our step each time we dance. Five years of dancing and our feet are tired, but our steps are lighter because there is now so much we both know. I know she can only sleep with the door cracked and the hall light on. She knows I’ll come right away if the dark is still too dark. I know she’s not afraid to ride the tallest roller coaster, yet is sometimes scared to venture into a room alone. She knows I’ll walk into that room with her, holding her hand the whole way. I know I can’t throw out any of her things without her permission, no matter how long it’s been since she’s played with them, because she lost so much before she ever had a voice or a choice. She knows she has a voice now, and I will listen. I know she loves My Little Pony and dessert and me. She knows I always come back, because I love her, too.
I know our relationship is a miracle.
Five years in, and there is still so much to learn. Is it okay to take her to her adoption agency’s reunion, where the fact that she was adopted takes center stage? Will it fall on a day when she’s proud of her story, or on a day when she just doesn’t want to be different? What does it look like to love her well, either way? How will I encourage her when a classmate ignorantly asks about her “real parents”? Will I be enough for her in those tween and teen years when identity is such an issue anyway, and there are more questions than answers about fitting in and belonging and home? Will she always believe that I love her? Will I be strong if she doesn’t?
The questions are scary, but I’m okay with them because five years in, I’m learning to embrace the mystery of relationship with this little one. I’m learning to sit, content, in the mystery of a love that discards the self-righteous, controlling expectations of my early parenting days and says, “I love you because you are mine.” A love that sometimes gets it right and oftentimes gets it wrong, but never stops pursuing. A love that delights in what is given, but never demands. A love that dismisses timelines of supposed success and says, “I’m here. Take your time.” A love that surrenders to the One who knows the unknown and holds all things together so I don’t have to. A love that will not let her go.
Five years in, and a lifetime to go. If you ask me, it’s not long enough—not because I need more time to learn to be a godly mother (I do), but because being her mother is one of the greatest privileges of my life. A lifetime isn’t long enough to learn the beauty of who she is and to enjoy loving every part of her. To watch her grow more and more secure in herself and her story. To hear her say, “Double kisses, Mama!” and soak in her giggles when I pepper her sweet little cheeks with twenty kisses instead of two. To have the best of intentions and then mess up, ask for forgiveness, and try again. To practice grace. To walk in love.
Five years in, and I know one thing that will never change, no matter what lies ahead: I’m so very glad she’s mine.
Jennifer Phillips is the author of Bringing Lucy Home and 30 Days of Hope for Adoptive Parents, as well as the co-author of Unhitching From the Crazy Train: Finding Rest in a World You Can’t Control. She is a wife and mother of four, including one precious Chinese daughter. She and her husband, Brian, have served in Australia with University Impact but now call Birmingham, Alabama, home. For more information, visit her blog at jenniferphillipsblog.com.