He’s wearing his red pajamas with the puppy print and chasing the dog from room to room as determinedly as the dog chases her own tail. As if by the sheer volume of his voice and desperate pitch of his pleading she will condescend to sit next to him for more than five tantalizing minutes.
She is a dog. What does she know of his story?
What does she know of the passion burning beneath his cartoon print for a four legged best friend to call his own? What does she know of three-year-old hopes that are no less intense than the thirty-year-old kind?
When we ask him what makes him special, he responds, “because I love dogs.”
He loves them and they lick his face as we all sit under blankets and the spell of an animated movie. There’s a dog in the movie and three children who are desperately waiting to get adopted. And his older brother asks, “What is adopted?”
All week they’ve been playing with their big brother Karabo who is actually my little brother, which makes him their uncle. But big brother is always what he’s been to them.
What is adopted?
And the question is so big that I pause the film and my tongue and turn to Karabo’s mom to let her explain how Karabo grew in another mommy’s tummy before he became part of our family. And I watch Jackson’s eyes grow wide with amazement that there may have been a time when Karabo had a different story than he has now and wider still when we tell him of the hundreds of kids that live in orphanages in Karabo’s home town.
But he’s old enough now to know that some children don’t have parents and to ask us the bigger questions still, like why and what can we do.
Karabo is a Setswana name meaning “an Answer.” For our family, Karabo was the answer to many questions.
For example, what can God do with the little we offer?
My parents had been moved by a particular verse in the book of James:
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this:
to look after orphans and widows in their distress…” James 1:27
So, they asked a local social worker that they knew if she would introduce them to families that needed support. Families of orphans. Families known eloquently as “child-headed households.” She set up several home visits with several families. My parents planned to deliver care packages, food, clothes. They did not plan to begin an adoption journey.
But then they met the first family.
You know how the story goes. Five thousand hungry people, no food or markets in sight. One little boy, five loaves and two fish. And the rest is history.
Except that it isn’t.
Because God kept multiplying and multiplying and multiplying what my parents had set out to do. He broke their expectations and offered them back new ones, greater ones, more satisfying ones. He broke apart their plan and offered back his own and it filled up spaces in our home we didn’t know were there until our family was eventually multiplied by one little boy.
One little boy who has grown up into one big boy and his sister and now his niece and an umbilical cord connection to the orphanage they could have ended up in.
What is my story and what do I love – these are the questions that run through my mind in the midnight feedings with Zoe here in the southern hemisphere. This story of mine that finds me parenting children close in age to the second wave of kids my parents are now also parenting.
What is my story and what do I love?
My son chases his grandfather’s dog with a deep and relentless love. This is his three-year-old story. I will be thirty-seven this year. And I ask myself more here than anywhere else –here where the red dust burns my eyes and the veld burns black with winter fires. Here where my children tell me they don’t want to leave. Here where I eat and drink the flavors of home. Here where the HIV statistics sky rocket. Here where churches serve and so many kids still go desperate and hungry – what is my story?
What is my story and what will I chase with the deep and relentless love of a three-year-old who dreams of his own dog?