Adoption has an ugly side. I don’t think you can see it from the outside looking in. It will absolutely change you. It cannot enter your life and not rip, shred and tear. It enters invited and sets up in your home and heart. Adoption will unpack a suitcase on your living room floor, your kitchen counter, your family car, your dining room table…and it’s a hot mess. It will absolutely wreck you, ruin you and open your eyes wide. And sometimes there are days that I am a blubbery mess and want to go back to the days of blindness and naivety.
But I know that I don’t really want to, and I can’t. No, my eyes are open and I realize that the cross was meant to be picked up and Jesus was meant to be followed. He did not say, “When life is perfect, and you have the money and time, follow me.” No he said pick up the cross, this instrument of torture that is ugly and painful, and follow me today. When I went to Eastern Europe, I prayed for God to open my eyes and He did. And my heart broke into a million pieces, and now I cannot live each day and not think, “kids are dying.” I cannot sit in church and worship, I cannot drop my kids off at school, or make a run to Target without a whisper “kids are dying.”
I sit silently and I watch my people go through daily life with its BBQs, shopping trips and soccer games and I want to yell “kids are dying!” People look at the adoption of our kids and say “that’s cool,” but then they go on about their lives. And I want to scream, “kids are dying.” They see the flesh and blood example of Israel and the pictures of the orphanage, and they shed a tear and walk back to their Monday morning jobs, and I sit whispering, “kids are dying,” and no one truly hears…because if they really listened they would know and they would be weeping too…instead they go on living, and the kids, they keep on dying.
So many days, I struggle with the knowledge of children that go to live out their days in institutions, babies that go without medical care and infants that learn not to cry, laugh or smile. Kids caged in cribs, banging their heads on the bars to self-soothe, biting fingers until they bleed, rocking endlessly, and fed a convenient, liquid diet. I shoulder this burden of knowledge and when I try to unpack it with friends, family and church, they smile and change the subject to something “not so heavy.” And still this heavy burden is making my knees buckle, my shoulders ache and my heart break. Where are you church? Kids are dying…alone.
I unpacked a living, breathing daily reminder of what I saw in Eastern Europe, and every single day his presence whispers, “kids are dying.”
One year ago, I stepped from a plane in Bulgaria and walked into a world of crushing heartache and sadness. One year ago, my eyes and heart were open to a world outside my American, middle-class life. One year ago, I sat in a hot, airless orphanage holding a smelly, urine soaked child with brown teeth. One year ago I left behind my ability to turn a blind eye in a hell hole orphanage in Bulgaria. 365 days ago I left behind thousands of other orphans who are no less worthy than Israel. One year ago, I looked at my beautiful, comfortable life and felt shame and sorrow, and that day my life changed. Adoption is shading every choice, decision and step I take. And just when I’m creating a new normal, a small voice whispers “Kids are dying.” I fold laundry and I go to work, and I fall into bed and the small voice is whispering, “kids are dying,” and I don’t know what to do. I am on my knees and praying because I don’t know the answer and while in the dark, I often feel so lost and ineffectual.
Israel suffered the most severe neglect and pain one could imagine. Every day there are moments colored by his trauma. Many of his decisions are steeped in fear and survival. Interestingly, ongoing trauma actually changes the structure and chemical activity of the brain. As he is healing, we see him progress quickly through the developmental stages. Eight months ago we pulled Israel from an orphanage and he has gone from a size 18-24 months to a 4 toddler.
He began playing with baby toys, like shape sorters and stacking blocks, he is now playing with cars and trucks and loves anything musical. He loves church because they have a worship band and if they ever hit the road, he will sign up to be their roadie. Israel is my living and breathing example that I left behind thousands more. And almost every week, a photo is posted in one of the adoption groups of a child that has been taken off the adoption registry because he died. And I look at my son and I see his incredible potential, and I am so grateful I saw past myself to bring him home.
“Worst case of medical neglect I’ve ever seen,” “shunt looks concerning,” “I’ve never seen anything like this”…just a few of the words from specialists and doctors. Israel was severely malnourished, had a spine that was trying to poke through his skin, and was on a liquid diet for convenience. What needs to be understood is that Israel was not supposed to live to the age of 5.
In Eastern Europe, children with these issues die before they become such a burden, and Israel didn’t die. He was not meant to live with such impairments and this is why he was not cared for in any type of humane way. I know it’s hard to meet him and look at him and realize what he lived, but please look. Look past the smile and the strong body, look beyond the nice clothing and super cool wheelchair. Look past what love can do in eight short months. I want you to see that he needs to be your daily reminder as well…this little boy bears a message.
Little boys and little girls just like him will not live to see their sixth birthday. They won’t be held in the arms of a mother while they die, they will be alone. And my God, I cry just typing this because I need you to look at him and know that he was picked at birth to die. He was placed in an orphanage at birth with other children, and many of them that we left behind are dead, or have been transferred. And to be transferred is death, because 85 percent of these children die within a year of transfer to an institution.
Israel was born with thoracic level spina bifida, which means he has no feeling from the waist down. Placed at birth in an orphanage, he was deprived of everything but the basics to live. He had survived in this terrible setting and he was nearing the age of 4. He had all kinds of medical issues, many I had never even heard of. I read about him on Facebook and it should have been a moment that I said how sweet he looked and I hoped he found his forever family. But instead, God placed his tiny face on my heart and I dreamed about him and he kept crossing my Facebook news feed. So, we decided it would be a good idea and picked him out of the millions of orphans to be our son.
A child that would never run, never dance, never walk. A boy that will never be what I imagined in a son. I have picked a child that had never experienced the sunshine warming his face, or wind tossing his hair. Israel was kept in a room and never allowed outside. And now, the child I picked is sharing with me the beauty of a moment. He has taught me that real love is not conditional and character and true beauty do not lie on the surface. I look at Israel and the outside is just a shell. His heart is beautiful, strong and full of potential. I have been so lucky to witness a boy, enslaved by circumstances, released to show his true value and beauty. And now I go through my days and I am torn. I have picked a child. Picking and choosing means that someone else didn’t get picked. And didn’t get picked means “kids are dying.”
Proverbs 24:12 tells us, “Once our eyes are opened, we cannot pretend we do not know what to do. God, who weighs our hearts and keeps our souls knows we know and holds us responsible to act.”
I am not always eloquent and these words may offend, but I’m past trying to be politically correct. The orphan crisis is our crisis! The Body Of Christ is meant to be the father to the fatherless. How often are we speaking these painful truths in church? I will tell you this now. There is never enough money, enough time or a perfect moment to adopt. We need to wake up and answer this call. We are the ones who are meant to be supporting, praying, advocating and bringing home the least of these. Where are you, church? I need you to look at Israel and realize that he was one of the “kids that was dying.” This is not a nameless and faceless cause. Kids are dying…alone.
Please visit Reeces Rainbow to see children waiting, or to help support a family in the process of adoption.
This post originally appeared on ransomforisrael.com