EMMANUEL

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Tonight there are still so many questions, there's still sadness, still emptiness. But one of the reasons I've kept this blog over the years is that it allows me to look back to see where God has brought our family. So much has happened in three years, but I will never forget the night I opened this email. I'll never forget the sequence of events that unfolded shortly thereafter- packing up Jephté's things, driving him to his new foster family, walking away from him as he screamed out behind me. To him it was another abandonment. I'll never forget returning my hotel room key to Alain, the kind owner. Saying goodbye to Carlos and Pablo and the rest of the staff. I'll never forget sitting in the waiting area at the airport and then boarding the plane, barely able to put one foot in front of the other to leave the continent where my son would remain. I'll never forget that salad- fresh from Belgium. All I'd craved for the previous three months was a crunchy vegetable, but I could barely eat. I'll always be grateful to Liz for the sachet of Canadian Kleenex, I'd never cried so much in my life. This past month has been the only real rival to that season of pain. 

I have these little photo holder ornaments on the tree, one for each of the boys for each year. This year, I bought an extra one and planned to slip in an ultrasound picture of John Mark. I never did it, and tonight I noticed the empty ornament tucked away on one of the branches. I'm still confounded. After all we've been through, why this? I think I could've handled another loss at 8 weeks or 10, or even 12. I would've been sad, but understood that maybe there was some chromosomal abnormality or one of the hundred things that go wrong early on. But this? The miscarriage rate for my pregnancy was finally practically zero. I don't even have the words to ask the questions anymore. So I turn back to this, a moment when we were out of words to ask the questions that plagued our souls. And while we still don't have complete answers to that time from Christmas 2013-May 2014, we had God's presence. In a way we didn't know it before. So I'm ending this Christmas with that reality- God showed up before, so I know He can do it again. Just like He did all those years ago in the manger, and just like He will do when He makes everything right again. He is Emmanuel- God with us. 

from Mike, on Christmas 2013 

I don't know what to say to you right now. In less that 24 hours you will be on a plane leaving that ten-by-ten prison that was "home" for the past three months. You will be leaving behind mosquitoes, anti-malarials, "jungle oats," spaghetti, stinking plumbing, potholes, pollution, sweltering heat, lies and broken promises, and your favorite six legged hotel guests. You will also be leaving an oasis in the chaos, afternoon swims, good help that have become like family (whose names we will never forget), adventures to the thieves' market, and the beautiful culture of the Congolese. I'm not sure how you feel about all that, but I'm guessing in the final balance, especially when Sam is thrown into the mix, San Francisco sounds pretty nice (there's not an outdoor pool around, but we also lack sweltering heat, mosquitoes, etc).

Except that final balance leaves out one very weighty matter - our son. Jephté as we have come to know him, again. Here we were thinking we could take the Congo out of him, and now it seems Congo has crept into us. You see, I don't know how to feel about this homecoming - I'm terribly excited, anxious to see you, to finally be able to hold you again. Sam kinda misses you too. Ok, he really, really misses you. I'm certainly no tenable substitute for you as far as that goes. But then I have this pang of deep, to my core, guilt, sorrow, I don't know what to call it. Bittersweet? Someone used that term recently. Sweet? yes, bitter? I don't think bitter captures the emotion - bilious vomit. That's closer. Certainly captures the sick feeling better.

I wish I knew what to tell you about tomorrow (today, actually in Congo - this 9 hour difference thing has got to go). You'd think I'd have something wise to say - I mean, I've now left him twice. Despite the fact that the second time was with the best caregiver on earth and was only supposed to be temporary, it wasn't any easier. Now you have to leave him behind with an uncertain future ahead, leave him behind with a substitute family (ok, they're actually a substitute-substitute since we're the original by-God's-mercy-alone substitutes). I'm fear to even mention aloud the doubts and thoughts that are going through your mind. I think we share them. I think they are tidily summed up with "Why God?"

Why God? Why have you allowed us to go into the heart of darkness, this boy's tragic yet brief history, a deeply broken city, a wretchedly broken system? Why did all of our being "responsible" in counting the costs before embarking account to nothing when everything fell apart? Why have you allowed our family to be torn apart for these past three months, and in the end left a hole with no certainty of being filled? Why can't anyone keep a promise in this hell? Why do so many corrupt and idealistic people, together in the end, seem to practically hate orphans? Why?

I don't have words for the rest of the questions - just a big question mark on my soul. And what's worse is I really don't have answers to the questions. I don't think I will this side of eternity.

Here's what I do know though: the suffering is real, God is real, God is powerful over the real suffering, and God has been with us (I mean right there with us) through the suffering. I know that what we are doing is good, and therefore it's God's will. Because he wills good. Opposition and outcomes cannot be simple metrics to assess concordance with His will. Action that is in line with His character regardless of outcome, that is what brings him joy. 

Jephté has had three months of a loving mother, good nutrition, medicine, field trips, protection from the bugs that bite, he learned how to swim. He learned how to dive! We've met good people in Kinshasa who want to see these children thrive. There is hope. I'm not some perpetually optimistic person as you know. So when I say these things, I'm not looking for a silver lining. I'm not saying these things are why God has allowed this to pan out this way. But I don't want to miss what God is doing either.

So "tomorrow" you leave the land of the eternal "tomorrow." I wish I had something more clever to say right now. Something to prepare you for what is about to transpire. Someway to assure you it's all going to be alright. But Jephté isn't coming home with you. That's going to hurt, a lot. I wish you didn't have to say goodbye alone. Know that you are not alone, and neither is Jephté. He goes with his Father, his true Father. And until we are allowed to bring him into our home, we have to trust in his Father, our Father. Just as Advent is approximately twice as long as Christmas, the night is often longer than the light. But the Light does come eventually, the night does not last forever.

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