The girl and I came downstairs at the reasonable hour of eight am and were surprised by the light that had flooded the green backyard. Sometimes we don't make it down until ten am and miss that sight, besides feeling terribly behind the times.
My daughter is fascinated by light, as is to be expected.
So, to maybe pick up the story and hack away at it some more- we woke up on Monday morning n a state which is not very well described, having had almost no sleep and knowing this was the day the papers were to be signed.
In the night, I'd held my daughter against my chest, her head resting on my heart. She had hold of my pinkie finger but her hand was so tiny she could only grab the tip.
Even so, she had a determined grasp. I felt as if she were saying to me, through that tight clasp and over and over again, don't let go and I felt as if my own heart beat were replying back, over and over again, I will never let go.
I don't remember much about that day, except the sadness of the birth parents, and how Keith and I were somber with them, unable to show any feelings of anticipation or joy, for fear of making their grief harder to bear.
They came and introduced their close friend who would witness the paperwork. As they entered the room, D. hung back and leaning down to the friend, a short, vibrant young woman with glossy black curls, asked her, "Who does she remind you of?" He indicated me with a nod of his head.
"I thought to myself, S, as soon as I saw her," the friend said, in wonder. "She has just the same quiet, soft spoken way."
They all nodded, satisfied. All along, the similarities between S. and D., and Keith and myself, were a source of continual comfort to them. The day before, Keith's phone had gone off, announced by his ring tone, the lyrics of which filled the room: "Baby you a song, you make me wanna roll my windows down, and drive...."
Both men bent and reached for their pockets and then looked at each other. They had the exact same ring tone. Things like this happened a lot.
The friend, J., had brought the baby gifts, which was rather overwhelming. It made my head spin to realize that they were able to celebrate the adoption with gifts.
I lifted out a pink ballerina themed outfit, with the words, tiny ballerina embroidered on the bib. I looked at it in a amazement. Wordlessly, I turned it toward S., so she could read it.
"Did you tell her?" I asked S.
S., her eyes bright, shook her head.
"Tell me what?" her friend asked, nudging her shoulder. "What?"
S. leaned toward her and spoke softly in her ear. I couldn't hear, but I knew what she was saying.
Merissa moved around a great deal in the womb, sometimes even doing little splits. I had jokingly said, in an e-mail, that maybe she would be a gymnast or a ballerina, and how adorable those little ballerina outfits were and maybe Merissa would take lessons. S. had written back that she herself had taken both ballerina and gymnastic lessons when she was young.
When we met in person, part of the gift I brought S. was a pale blue, leather bound photo album with scrapbook decals, one of which was a ballerina themed packet, with a tiny pink leotard and shoes, so she could decorate the pictures I would be sending her.
The time came for them all to go. J. looked at me quizzically and then at Keith. "Are you guys excited?" she asked. "You seem nervous."
A pang went through me. How could I explain to her that it was impossible to be joyful in the presence of S. and D.'s grief? How could I explain the impact of all the intense emotions that were surging just under the skin, kept under tight wrap, as I sat there, watching the minutes ease away in the presence of my soon to be daughter and her birth parents, wondering if, at the last minute, everything would change?
It was impossible, but I knew I had to answer something and it had to be genuine.
"It all happened so quickly," I admitted, snapping my finger in the air.
And indeed, it had. One morning, we were waking up in a half packed rental house, wondering how the visit would go, wondering when the new house would be done, how we would move, when Merissa would be born, and twenty four hours later, we were waking up in a hospital room with her in her metal bassinet and I.V. line, not knowing when she would leave the hospital, when we would go home, how our life would be now.
"And it sinks in slowly, in layers," I said, dropping my hand through the air, watching her face. She was listening intently. "I hold in her my arms," I continued, "and I think, my god, I have a daughter. I see her and think, I love her so much, with all the love I have, and then I go to pick her up again later, and I think, in surprise, my god, I love her more!"
As I was speaking, I saw tears well up in J.'s eyes. She stood in front of me, as I sat on the bed, her hands clasped. She was wordless, her eyes glowing and shimmering. I was surprised by her reaction. Shyly, I looked away and then back again. She continued looking steadily at me until S. nudged her gently toward the door, her own face peaceful.
Then we were in the room alone, in the late afternoon quiet. It was a surreal time. I lifted Merissa out of the bassinet to feed her, but my actions were mechanical. Keith was restless and full of energy, unable to sit.
All the time, I was thinking of what was happening in the room down the hall, how, at just that moment, all the responsibility for this child was leaving the birth parents and settling on us. I felt terrified, inadequate. I wondered who on earth thought we were capable of caring for a tiny child, keeping her healthy, teaching her everything she needed to know about life.
My love of her and my fear seemed to be bound together, two strands of the one rope so heavy I didn't know how I would carry it, but I felt it settle down over my shoulders as though settling into a harness for the long haul of parenthood.
Which reminded me of something, of another yoke I was harnessed to- how that one was easy and light, because someone else was carrying all the weight of it. I was simply walking beside Him, following Him in His work.
I realized it was the same yoke. All the weight was not on me after all, no matter what it felt like.
"I don't know how to be a parent," I had confessed to Jesus, once, a year ago.
I do, He replied, with complete and loving assurance.
"What if something happens to Keith and I? She'll be alone," I had told Him once, one night, long before the adoption. For some reason, I always referred to the coming child as a girl; so did He.
She'll always have Me, He replied.
Always- that is His word. I simply could not count the number of times He has said that word to me.
"She must have some important work or place in this life," I had told Him during the hospital stay, thinking of all the things that had happened, that had come together to make the adoption successful and as peaceful and full of love as it had been. I lay there, worrying about what sort of stupendous burden of fate must be on my daughter.
She could live a perfectly ordinary, quiet life and still do great work according to Me, and be worth everything I had to give, He reminded me, immediately, strongly.
As soon as He said it, I remembered how true that was of Him, and His upside down, quiet kingdom. He emphasized this strongly; it was as if He wanted me to have no doubt that she was worth everything just as she was, simply because she was.
I remembered struggling under the burden of heavy religious and spiritual expectations and how that had quenched my spirit and my already small strength. It was as if He was cutting right across that, before I could even begin, even unconsciously, to place the same burden on my daughter that I had once tried to carry.
I was grateful for this; I still am. I don't want her to feel as if she must be "on fire for God" because I don't want her spirit burned to ash, though He can make beautiful things out of ashes; I should know. Love for God can burn deep and slow and last all one's life without making of oneself a bonfire.
I want to teach her to live quietly and deeply, to be grounded in what is real- nature and the seasons and the genuine people in her life, friends and family, and the deep peace and quiet at the center of her heart, that sacred space that belongs to her and to God and to no one else. No matter how great or small her own vision if her life might be, I want her always to have this stable platform at the center.