Anna had been sick that weekend. By Sunday morning she was better, but still not herself. I battled with whether to take her to church and finally decided to keep her home, thinking one more day to rest might be the better choice. Sending Titus on with a friend, I started tidying up the house and had the wild idea to prepare some lunch. (I never cook lunch on Sunday's. We eat sandwiches, or leftovers, or whatever we can scrounge up.)
At 10:57 a.m. my cell phone rang. Nathan's name on the caller ID. I nearly panicked. Something must be wrong for him to call three minutes before he was supposed to be up front giving the welcome. Quite the opposite.
"Honey, do we have lunch plans?" He asked with voice shaking, the words coming out on top of each other.
"I don't think so, why?"
"Bill Howard and Jimmy and Renel just walked through the front doors of the church."
Side note: We knew Renel (read about why he is special to our family here) was scheduled to have surgery in Dothan, Alabama the next week. He had fallen and injured his jaw as a little boy long before he arrived at Alex's House. Not having access to health care when it happened, his jaw healed incorrectly and he had been unable to open it more than an inch ever since. Bill found a doctor in the states that was willing to do the surgery for FREE, so he got medical clearance for Renel to leave Haiti. Having flown into Atlanta the night before, they woke up Sunday morning and headed south on I-85. When they saw the signs for the Valley exit, Bill remembered that we lived here and made the quick decision to surprise us at church. Surprise is one word for it.
I told Nathan to invite them to our house for lunch. Praise be to Jesus, I HAD MADE SPAGHETTI.
We hung up quickly and I danced a jig. My heart thumping like I had run a marathon. (Who am I kidding? My heart thumps like that when I run across the yard.) I looked at Anna and said, "Do you want to go worship with Haitians?!" Ten minutes earlier I was convinced we should stay home. But when would I ever have another chance like this!? Besides, it wasn't like she had the Chicken Pox (I kept telling myself to get over the guilt).
I had to go. I longed to see that boy I had loved from afar and I wanted every minute I could get.
My adrenaline level was through the roof. Which was a good thing since it was 11am and church starts at....11am!! I commenced to darting around like I was on speed. Traded my sweats for some jeans (good thing the folks at Valley First aren't formal, or superficial) and smeared on some makeup in under 90 seconds. I looked like I had asked a ten year old to give me a make over, but the excitement totally eclipsed any care in the world.
I snatched Anna off the couch in the middle of her Dora episode and wiggled her into pants and a shirt. Forget brushing her hair (or teeth!). Shoes but no socks. No jacket in December (why, of course I'm fit to adopt children, Ms. Social Worker). Let's GO!!! I hurled her into her car seat and drove like a raging New Yorker (as if they might dissipate into thin air of I didn't get there NOW!) while applying lipstick at the same time (actually it was a lip pencil, where on earth was my regular lipstick?). Yanked Anna out of the car (Don't feel sorry for her, she thought the whole thing was great fun. Having never seen me move with such speed, she was both amazed and amused.) and darted in the side doors. Only twelve minutes late.
Just before I walked into the sanctuary, I paused and took a deep breath so I wouldn't have that "I rushed to church because the Haitians are here" look. And because this was B.I.G.
Renel was in that room. And I was about to set eyes on him. Who was this stalker in my head, so obsessed with seeing and touching him? What kind of maniac acts like that? One who had dreamt of raising him, or one like him, for a long time. There was no time to process the insane irony of how seven days earlier I had sacrificed that very dream and bent to the will of the Master.
That would come later.
I opened the door and walked in. Chris was already up front leading worship. Expecting them to be on the row with Nathan, my heart skipped a beat when I didn't see them there. Smiling slightly and trying to act fake normal, I took my place next to Nate. He mouthed, "They're over there," while pointing to the right. I cut my eyes and attempted not to turn my head too much. Stink. I couldn't see over Mike. I restrained myself from stepping up on the pew to get a look. Pursuing my lips, I hoped that I hadn't missed the "shake hands and greet each other" part of our service that usually comes after the first or second song. The screen in front of me displayed words which I had zero ability to make sense of. Worship at our church is usually a time of sincere adoration and communication with the Father. That day I simply converted oxygen into carbon monoxide and took up space.
FINALLY we finished the song set and Chris said those beautiful words I had been itching to hear, "Greet someone and tell them you're glad they're here this morning." Yes! I hadn't missed it. I made a beeline to the right and caught my first glimpse...just before a church member cut me off to give me a hug, telling me she was glad to see me. "You too! Err, see you later." Back on track. Make a hole, people, coming through. Another hugging church member. This one only got a smile. And another. For the love, I never realized how hug-y this church is! (Normally, I'm all about some hugs and stuff, but I was on a MISSION.)
The waters parted and I got my first good look. Heart. Melted. Walking on over and smiling like a love-struck teen, Nathan introduced me. I shook their hands vigorously, and in that enormous moment all I could do was nod like a bobble-head and repeat over and over "I'm so glad you're here!" Anna was on my hip, snot running down her face.
I wanted nothing more than to wrap my mama arms around that gorgeous dark skinned boy, but his shy smile and wide eyes made me think he was already more than a little overwhelmed and maybe I shouldn't freak him out any more.
Along with the overwhelming joy of being so near to him, the reality of what he was experiencing hit me like a punch in the gut. Haitian orphan. Speaks no English. Accustomed to zero technology. White people everywhere. Cars. Planes. Hotels. Billboards. His first everything American. Our culture is a far cry from the simplicity he is used to. Poor baby. I wanted to shelter him. Keep his innocent eyes from seeing the stuff we hoard. The excess. The pursuit of more. The commercialism. What must he be thinking?
He was probably wondering who the crazy bobble-head painted white woman was, and why she would't let go of his hand.
I reluctantly made my way back to my pew and impatiently sat through the rest of the service. Have no idea what Nathan preached on that day. At one point I even thought to myself, "Come on, honey, wrap it up." I look back and wonder how he even had the presence of mind to preach. Heck, for all I know he didn't make any sense at all. I didn't hear most of what he said.
Church was finally over. I darted over to my Haitian guests and made sure they were coming to lunch. Getting the affirmative, I pushed my kids out the door and into the car. There was stuff at home I needed to shove in closets and under beds before they arrived. I've never before wished we lived in a smaller house, but that day I did. We don't live in anything massive or fancy. In fact it's a 1907 fixer upper. But it's roomy and comfortable. And the toys. Heavens, the toys. They're everywhere. Our wealth was a dragon breathing down my neck. Right or wrong, I was embarrassed over our affluence and possessions.
Standing at the stove buttering bread, Nathan's voice floated through the back door as it opened. And then Renel walked into my kitchen. Again, resisting the urge to envelop him in a huge embrace, I gave him a benign side hug and pointed to the picture we had on our fridge of him. He grinned a big lopsided grin and I nearly came undone. Taken the Christmas before when we sent his Christmas present, the staff at Alex's House had included it with a thank you note, it had been on our fridge ever since.
We led them to the living room and the men folk made small talk. Titus immediately tried to strike up a conversation with Renel. After a minute or two of blank stares from him, Titus came over and whispered, "Mom, why can't he talk?". Hmm, how to explain language barriers to a five year old? "Go get some Hotwheel cars. I bet he speaks that language."
Sure enough, they were rolling cars back and forth to each other before I could blink. The next thing I knew they were in Titus' room playing. When I peeked in to check, Titus was showing Renel how to mark days on his superhero calendar (practically a ritual at our house, the kid likes to know what day it is....funny because I never know what day it is).
I set the table and called everyone to eat. My emotions were gurgling just below the surface. What I wouldn't give to have those gangley legs under my table always. I couldn't take my eyes off of him. He ate slowly, but finished every bite. Meanwhile, my spoiled American children whined, "I don't like spaghetti. Can I have a sandwich?" I tried to remind myself that they had no idea the child they were eating with had gone years on the brink of starvation. That they were just acting the way we all act without the knowledge of what other's endure. Still, I was mortified.
Time was slipping away and I could feel him doing the same. The conversation around the table was slowing down and Bill mentioned that they would need to head out soon. Titus asked if he could show Renel the swing set and trampoline. Imagine. He had never seen a swing set. Or a trampoline.
|He was so funny on the trampoline. Kinda like Gumby.|
|Note Anna's shoes--on the wrong feet. And white??|
He had been in my home. Where I thought he belonged. I grieved it all over again. I grieved for that child. For days. On the heels of the enormous high, came a deep low. I couldn't move his plate and cup from the table where he had left it, and dared anyone else in the house to touch it. For four days.
I poured my heart out to God. I begged him to help me understand it all. The timing. The visit. His will. The beautiful glimpse of *my* Haitian child in our home, among our family. One of us for two breathtaking hours. He let me cry and whine and question. He silently held me while I wrestled and wailed.
And once I was spent He said,
"My thoughts are not your thoughts, and my ways are not your ways. Just like the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return without watering it and making it flourish, so is My Word that goes out from my mouth; it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." Isaiah 55:8-11 (paraphrase mine)
God may do something with the time we spent with Renel that I can't anticipate. How it fits into the larger picture, I have no way of knowing. But finally, after He spoke, I had some measure of peace and could see Renel's visit for what it was.
A gift of the rarest kind.