It was logical.
We sat together, in a mostly empty Italian Restaurant. Date night.
A time to connect in these months following our adopted children being home a handful of months, nodding when people marveled, “Lucky kids!” and went along with their day
Yet months later, I couldn’t escape it.
Children in crusted buildings, starving and clinging to me, me of all people. The weight of my impotence crushed me at nights. I could do nothing for them, but…
“Then why would God even allow that?” a stupid tear flicking down the side, then off the tip of my nose, my head hunched so the indifferent waitress couldn’t tell.
“Well,” Andrew was quizzical, yet helpless, explaining things I had agreed to in the past, but no. Not now. Not anymore?
I felt crushed, and angry. “It’s not just not ok…” I reasoned. It was suddenly obvious to me. I dried my eye and sat up, sadness to resolve, “I mean really, if I were God I would do things differently, what about that is ok?”
“He can’t force anyone to adopt or not have sex or parent their kids,” Andrew discussed, but it was too late.
“All powerful?” I said, “If I were in charge, it would be different, it wouldn’t be for you?” my question casting judgement, but in my mind right. Fair.
“And after all that, to allow most of them to be used for sex trafficking after, tragedy to death,” I scoffed, whispered, yet mad. The reality of it in faces of young children once in my arms, “It’s not ok.”
I reflected on the difference ‘we were making in our own children,’ and my impotence, turned to God’s.
I felt cold and numb. Not even angry, but done. I had never felt this way before.
Our food came and we sat in silence. I wanted Andrew to help me, we both knew he couldn’t.
He went to the bathroom, I extended my elbow onto the table to turn my back to the room, my private moments of realization hidden. Done. Not good. Hidden from the two other patrons to my back. One young with tattoos, the other older, louder. Obnoxious.
I felt the breeze of air when Andrew sat back down, “Are those guys speaking Russian?” he asked me, loudly.
“No,” I said. Andrew must be feeling nostalgic.
“I think I just heard them say ‘Ukraine’.” He evaded my misery and approached them to blank, awkward stares, “Hey are you guys talking about Ukraine?” I guess any conversation was better than the one we were having, I thought to myself.
The older one, unsmiling, clasped his fingers around his knee, “Yes.”
What the hell, Andrew. Date Night, plus I need emotional support for my current life change.
Andrew fumbled explaining a faint connection, “My sister,” and “Adoption,” and “Russia,” and “A few months ago.”
A couple quiet nods and the cold shoulder of his wife a couple tables away the otherwise empty restaurant.
“Well,” the man says, “I actually live there. I moved there from here, that’s why I am meeting up with my friend.”
Finally, I thought, an obvious asking of him to leave the conversation.
But it wasn’t. The stoney faced man was slowly, not quietly, coming alive, “My wife and I are missionaries there.”
And suddenly, as if Andrew was a long time friend, the man cheerily shared with him about all his experiences and work in Ukraine in between bursts of laughter as Andrew eased into a chair, welcomed.
“You know, so we visit the orphanages, see this little one,” he held up his phone for Andrew to see a brown eyed baby in his arms, “The nannys always tell me to take him, just because he will have a hard life, mom’s in jail. He’s my little buddy.”
I felt myself listening intently, awkwardly eating at a distance.
“You know,” he mentioned casually with little concern, “Most of the orphanages there are run by the mob, they have lists of all the kids, when they are aging out, and then they use them,” then to loud laughter with expressive arms, “So we hold these information meetings with the older kids and teenagers, “HOW NOT TO BE TRAFFICKED!” and it’s been working!” he slapped his knee, joyful. Not defeated.
What the heck…. I thought to myself.
Screw it, I want to hear this, and I bridged the gap, he seemed welcoming enough. Maybe they hadn’t noticed the dark cloud of crankiness and agnosticism over my head sprinkled with angry, embarrassing tears.
He said hi, and continued without skipping a beat, “There were these three siblings, gorgeous kids, the nannies were begging me to take them in, they knew they would be trafficked, the oldest girl was aging out that summer, they were too beautiful.”
My eyes grew wide, I couldn’t hear this crap right now, my heart tightened, too raw.
“So my wife and I and our kids said yes, and the oldest just finished our missionary training school and is working at an orphanage in Kenya. She’s loving it,” he smiled, and moved onto the next topic.
What the heck, I couldn’t even be happy about this yet as I sat in the irony.
Or was it the hidden beauty. My cynicism slipping. Is this a joke?
“Wow!” Andrew said, so happy, the normal response. As Andrew talked, the man sat back and his otherwise animated face turned cloudy and blank, I felt like I was looking at an Eastern European at mealtime. Half American, half Ukrainian. Meant to be a Ukrainian missionary.
It came up that I had been to Romania before, a place of desolate sadness to me.
He clapped his hands and smiled, then loudly, “Once I preached God’s good news in Transilvania on Halloween.” As he laughed to himself at these fond memories, Andrew and his friend having a great time listening.
He continued about the beauty of his wife and how God told him to wait just for her in Ukraine as he showed her picture around, “I remember that,” said his younger friend, “He used to be my youth pastor.” This young man was now in ministry here to young people.
The older man grew quieter, “My wife sometimes talks adoption, but I am not sure,” he told us.
An invitation, as eyes flicked to me, direct by Andrew to share our story. Or was it God’s?
I didn’t feel sad. It was my turn to pull of a photo, in the dimly lit restaurant, the only 4 patrons now huddled together, the waitress not seen for a long time as we shared with the ferocity of long time friends.
As I shared, my pride over two victories felt small compared to what God was doing through this man in many. So many. In that many that I was convinced God cared nothing about a meal prior. I was quietly, kindly eased back into who’s story it was all along.
But now, I smiled.
“God used us, all we actually did was decide to trust him,” I said. I said it to myself, but he nodded, he agreed. So did the other two. I didn’t know their names.
“…but you should see them now, our youngest gained 25% of his weight just the first couple weeks home, and our daughter is learning English so quickly,” I shared easily, a weight lifted off my shoulders, stubborn truth escaping my mouth.
And I remembered that being part of God’s plan is actually a gift, the best gift. Not my triumph. Definitely not through our altruism or strength–we are sometimes the worst.
And God’s comic, kind timing to bring us here, these four faces, strangers but like old friends.
I remembered back to my angsty teen years when I was convinced that Christianity was an American thing, a clueless, self absorbed American thing, cause right?
And it wasn’t until I said yes to something that I ended up in Romania. Where Swedish Christians had lived for decades creating a revolutionary ‘orphanage’ system that was a collection of home, with parents, 10-14 kids per ‘family.’ Each home was built by a church from across the world.
Where I met an Irish family, living in Romania to the sole purpose of aiding teenage prostitutes, the wife showing me their pictures, not mired in sadness but laughing and set about her life of God, “I mean, really I should be helping them pluck their eye brows too, my goodness!” she said with her thick Irish accents as she recanted stories I could never have believed, her family God’s hands scooping children out of a tragic life.
A single woman from America, a nurse, as we walked down the street, children would crawl out of sewers as they saw her shoes walking by, “BETSY!” they would yell, and out of nowhere they ran to her, and she stopped and smiled, holding them in her arms, knowing them, looking into their mouths at their teeth, and we continued our walk and conversation.
Missionaries always surprise me, they are less “holy,” and more “Funny and welcoming.” And brave.
As a teen in Mexico, looking up at the sky telling God I wasn’t sure I believed in him, but at least I agreed with what the people who cared about him were doing as we were a group of 2,000 plugging into the dusty streets each day cleaning, singing, painting, helping, laughing but most of all learning from people who lived on less than you could imagine but had more joy than one could create. And I met Him there.
I never see these stories where I read and hear news, only when I decide to actually be humble and serve. To enter into the lives of others by saying yes to God, even if it’s a shy or angsty yes. That is when I see what God is actually doing.
He’s like, “Here I am, with them. Welcome.”
And I am humbled.
Because God is the light to each of us. And when when we are lit from the inside his beauty and love can come rushing out. When mercy and truth and humility can get ya.
My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves // 1 john 3.18-20
And since Andrew and I are so deep, on the way home we said,
“Well, that was weird.”