Were we foolish to invite this stranger of a boy right off of the streets into our hearts, into our suite?
All that repeatedly echoed through my mind, though, was the thought that this is what Jesus would do and did.
I unlocked the door. Jim was still downstairs talking at the front desk, explaining the situation at hand. He tentatively followed me in, eyes round and wide. I knew from the look on his face that he had never lived anywhere so plush, and I felt a twinge of shame. Our eyes met, and he bit his bottom lip - shy, unsure, excited. Then his eyes settled on the light switch, and his face registered curiosity. He looked to me almost as if asking permission to touch it, my face broke out in a wide grin, reassuring his curiosity. He gingerly reached out and pushed the light switch making the lights come to life in the entryway. His face registered glee, and he took off exploring every nook and cranny.
He started in the kitchen - sliding the window back and forth, open and shut. He sat on the ledge, and my heart raced in that overprotective Mama Bear way, Oh, please do not fall out of the window. His eyes then landed on the sink in the kitchen and he manipulated the faucet until the water ran, and he looked at me astonished and broke out in laughter, and my laughter melted into his. I wondered if this was his first encounter with running water. What a mystery it seemed to be to him. He ran his hands under the streaming water over and over. When he was tired of that the stove top beckoned to him, and he turned it on and off, on and off. My heart panicked a bit, and I purposed to tell Jim to talk with him about not touching the stove after we left. Then the microwave was opened and closed, and the refrigerator brought him so much delight. He continually placed his hand inside perplexed over the coolness he felt. My cheeks hurt from smiling, and I quickly grabbed one of the slender glass bottles filled with coke, used the bottle opener to pop the cap off, and handed the cool bottle to him. His smile lit up his beautiful face, and he took a swig, wiping his mouth with the back of his dirty hand.
He continued exploring, flushing the toilet in the bathroom, playing in the bathroom sink. Looking at himself in the mirror and smiling so big with his perfect, white teeth, testing out the couch, the arm chairs, the bed. Marveling at our laptop and the blow dryer that lay beside it. His eyes were hungry to understand everything, and I was living in the moment of wonder right along with him. After several moments I gently handed him his new backpack stuffed with clothing and then a bar of soap. I showed him the shower and how to work it, gave him a towel and shut the bathroom door.
I unhooked Jamesy from the baby sling and kissed his curly head as the tears fell over my cheeks warm and stinging. Moment by moment throughout the past five or so hours I was falling more and more in love with this boy. A little boy from the streets with a history of cruel sadness that no child should ever have to shoulder.
The bathroom door opened and he emerged clean and grinning in his new clothes. I think he put every article of new clothing that we had given him on. He looked older but softer. He pulled up his shirt and showed me a scab on his hip that had opened and looked sore. He told me he got it playing soccer. He seemed proud of his wound, as I tenderly and carefully (not knowing his history and the diseases his little body might hold) bandaged his scab. Tears pricked my eyes wondering when the last time was someone had taken care of him. It didn't seem right that this boy was in charge of himself - alone.
The sneakers we brought were too big, but my running shoes fit him perfectly. He didn't mind that they were pink. I tied them for him, and he grinned from ear to ear so proud to be rid of his dirty, broken plastic sandals. I wondered what it must feel like to be wearing socks and shoes after so long in ill-fitting sandals. How much I take for granted I thought.
Jim came in the door soon after. I was quick to tell him everything and about the stove. Jim swiftly unplugged the stove and took care of my worries. Then they went outside to play soccer, while I snuggled Jamesy for a bit and thought over all that had occurred that day. I marveled that God had orchestrated such a divine meeting. That we would once again find this boy and be given the gift of a day together - a day brimming full with memories, and that God would allow us a way to get him off the street and care for him. It was good, so good, and so God. But it wasn't enough. We could give him the world, and it still would not be enough, for all he truly desired and needed was the one thing we could not give him, and the one basic thing every child deserves - family. My heart split in two. We were getting on an airplane that night, so excited to start our new life with Jamesy, but my heart was breaking at all we were leaving behind and who we were leaving behind. Why would God give us this day with this boy, and then ask us to walk away?
The hours melted into one another. We took photographs and videos and shared photos from the laptop of our family. He played with the mp3 player we had given him and every other electronic gadget that we had brought. We had dinner in the dining room - tibs and injera. He grew quieter and there was something in his dark eyes that was unreadable - fear, loneliness, confusion? Maybe all three. We were to leave for the airport at 10 PM. We tucked Jamesy in to sleep for a few hours, and we quickly packed up our belongings. He would watch us, and I wondered what he was thinking. Soon his eyes grew heavy with sleepiness. We had learned that he normally slept during the day for safety reasons, so no doubt he was exhausted from spending the day awake with us. I helped him to lay down on the cot that was brought up for him, and kissed his cheek. I whispered to him that we would wake him before we left.
I watched him try to sleep. He couldn't lay down all of the way. He slumped against the wall, half sitting up and half laying down, his body tense and on guard. I realized this was how he slept on the street. He twitched and constantly awoke scanning the room, and he whimpered in his sleep. Mumbling and crying. My heart broke again as I watched him. I am not sure when I had felt such pain for another person. Tears streamed down my face, and I looked at Jim and saw pain mirrored on his face as well. I quickly went over sat on the floor and grabbed the boy's hand. He curled his head onto my shoulder and sobbed. I stroked his head and his hand as he trembled. This wasn't right, I thought, as I envisioned my other children safely tucked into their beds sleeping soundly and peacefully. What exactly had this sweet boy endured? I am not sure how long I sat with him crying my own hot tears, broken for this boy. My back finally screamed for me to get up, and I did.
It wasn't long before it was time to do what I had dreaded all day long - say goodbye. I was relieved to not have to leave him on the street, but this was still unbearably hard. We woke him, and I told him that he could sleep in the Queen size bed and watch the TV in the master bedroom. He smiled, but this time it didn't reach his eyes. He sat on the bed and flipped on to a movie that made me flinch, but he was mesmerized. Jim turned the TV off for a moment and pulled him to his feet. I was once again wearing Jamesy, who was sound a sleep in a front pack on my chest. We stood in the middle of that room and football huddled. For a moment the clock stopped, and I memorized the way it felt to be together, to have this teenage boy's arm around me and my husband's arm around me. The tears flowed, and I choked on sobs, and then Jim began to pray. I have no idea what he prayed. My memory fails me, and perhaps even at the time I was too distraught to really listen. I felt the boy quiver. He knew the day was ending, and that we were leaving with no certainty of when we would be back. After Jim said amen, I turned to the boy and hugged him fiercely.
I love you, Mom. He whispered - as broken as I have ever seen another human.
I love you, too.
Then my heart was pierced with horrific pain as I watched Jim envelope the boy in his arms. They rocked back and forth crying. Jim whispered to him over and over that he loved him and that we would be back someday. He promised that all of his needs would be met, and that he would be safe and well fed. And as long as I live I will never forget the look of sheer pain that was evident on the boy's face. It was palpable, and I could not swallow past the burning lump in my throat. Quickly I said one last goodbye and left the room.
And that was it. It was over. And that day has changed the course of my life forever. I still do not how it will all end, but I cannot ever be the same again. I cannot lay my head on my pillow, or wake up in the morning, or look at my brown-eyed boy here in my home and not remember who we left behind.
I hesitated to share any of this, because it still hurts, and it feels really, really vulnerable and private. I feel led to share, though, and I do not want the memory to fade. I want to remember what God gave us that day, and I want to remind myself that these faces on the street and in the orphanages are real people. People that God created and loved enough to send His Son to die for them.
People had told us it is foolish to pursue a teenage boy off of the streets of Ethiopia, that we cannot understand the ramifications it will have on our family.
It's true that we cannot.
But I cannot live with the ramifications of doing nothing.
I think Jesus would pursue the boy.
And simply because of this knowledge - so will we.
"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' Matthew 25:40Subscribe in a reader