“Bàba ài nī.” I hit replay on my phone again and again to hear the words reaching for the fundamental truth I want my child to know. “Daddy loves you.” I was so overwhelmed that I could hardly repeat them that first time.
Now a day doesn’t pass without Jenny and me walking around the house saying, “Bàba ài nī!” “Māmā ài nī (Mommy loves you)!”, and “Wō ài nī! (I love you)!” to each other, the dog, our little boy’s picture, or an empty room.
It is hard to fathom that we could love this child so much. We’ve never met him, never heard him speak, never been in the same room. We only know him through pictures, videos, and badly translated medical charts…but we love him. What is this mysterious space opening in our hearts, stretching wider through pain and joy, longing to pour out all that is within us to make space for this boy? How is that this seed, the calling of adoption, planted in the heart of my bride as a girl, sprouted and grew all these years, tenderly, quietly, until all of a sudden we found it breaking forth from the ground of our life together? It’s sprout pushing aside heavy layers of contentment and fear, replacing our laughter about the plight of friends with children with a blooming desire for children of our own.
Like any miracle, it’s a mystery too confusing and beautiful for words.
I’ve always struggled to understand love. I’ve felt it. I’ve received it. But it’s never made sense to me. Something in my psyche tells me I have to earn the love of others. It didn’t matter how much my Sunday School teachers told me God loved me, or my parents or grandparents told me they loved me, another voice told me that I had to make myself worthy of love. When I received praise as a teenager and young adult, my already strong self critic told me I didn’t deserve it. Heartfelt words felt hollow and disingenuous. Couldn’t they see my flaws, my mistakes, my failures?
Looking back I know that they did, but that they saw me through the eyes of love. I didn’t understand what this meant until I married Jenny. I was deeply embarrassed when she saw the messiest, most selfish, hidden parts of me and deeply moved when her affection did not wane. It wasn’t that my words and actions didn’t matter or weren’t hurtful to her, but somehow her love for me was rooted in something deeper than my ability on any given day to love her well. As I experienced this again and again, my ego began to crack and break until I could begin to receive her love without qualification, not even my own.
As I look at the picture of this little boy that will call me Dad my heart feels like it could explode. I think I am beginning to understand a little more of how my parents feel about me and how all parents feel about their children.
This love is a grace beyond us. We don’t will it or create it. It overcomes us. A life-shattering gift.
I don’t need to understand it. I just pray that I can stay open enough to receive it and generous enough to give it.