We had been home probably just around 24 hours. It came after his first night in his very own bed, with his own blankets and clean sheets, inside his own bedroom. His first 24 hours inside a home with his family. How his mind must have been swimming. I had been watching as his tired eyes drank everything in, and I could almost see the way he was trying to put it all together in his head and his heart. I wanted to ask questions, but he wasn't ready, so I stayed quiet and watched. I watched as he interacted with his little sister and little brothers. He was tender and loving, and they were all so smitten with each other right away - especially Scotty. It had always been Scotty. From the first family photo that Habi saw of us, he was mesmerized with Scotty. And Scotty was Habi's most fervent prayer warrior for the year and a half that we prayed Habi home. Scotty believed God would do this, and he never forgot Habi in his prayers. The moment Scotty would hear our Skype ring in the middle of the day, knowing his brother in Ethiopia would be on the other end, he would come running, "Hoptonnu" he would screech in his sweet little voice or "Havvvvviii". Their bond was and is precious - nothing short of God-weaved.
I watched him at the table, surrounded on all sides by family. He was fearful of the American food, but he tried it timidly. Mostly, though, he watched us. And I watched him watch us. He marveled at the way we joined hands, and I could tell he was really listening as Jim prayed thanksgiving over our meals and our family. He watched as Jim leaned over and cut up Jamesy's food, and as I reminded Cadi to use a napkin, or Scotty to sit on his bottom. He was trying to learn this - to learn what it meant to live like a family. My heart soared as he watched, and Jim and I would glance at each other in disbelief that this child, who we met on the street, was now sitting on our dining room chair and part of our family. (Honestly, our gaze still finds each other as we marvel over God's goodness. I hope it never gets old - the way God brought each of our children into our family.)
After we put three littles to bed that night, we sat on our couch with him. Jim and I awkwardly in this new role of parenting a teenager (or almost teenager, his age is a big question mark), decided that it would be a good time to share our house rules and consequences with him. In Ethiopia we had also had a talk, but that one was more about making sure he understood what living inside our family meant. We tried to help him to understand that he would be transferring submission to our authority, after so many years of being in charge of himself, etc. That in itself is a big decision for a kid, and honestly, he has done it with so much grace -grace beyond his years- he is doing so well in transitioning into our family.
Jim went over our few family rules and consequences (explaining what consequences even were), and he tied it into the gospel. It was one of our first moments really parenting Habi. My heart expanded as I watched Jim gently father this child. And while the moment was sweet, and it was encouraging to see the responsiveness that Habi had to our rules and our expectation for family living, that is not what stands out to me the most. It wasn't even the smile that lit clear to his eyes, as it was evident that this is what he desired - to be parented by a mommy and daddy who love him and cherish him and see the amazing gift he is. Instead it was what he said after our conversation was over, and we were snuggled in on the couch. We were all growing sleepy from jat-lag and emotional exhaustion at all that had transpired, and through the exhaustion his soft lilting voice broke the silence.
I don't want to forget. Please, help me not to forget.
Jim and I looked at each other as the words tumbled out of our sweet boy's lips. He went on to say that he did not want to forget where he came from and what God had done for him in bringing him out of street life after so many years and into a family. He did not want to grow up to be a rich American man and forget all that he had left behind in Addis. He did not want to grow so comfortable and used to American life that the life he left behind no longer mattered to him. He wanted to remember where he came from.
I remember my heart beating faster and faster as I listened to the words just tumble from his heart. Here sat this little boy, in a strange country, with virtual strangers, and out of his heart came wisdom of a man. I would soon learn that this was not the last time that we would be blessed and challenged with his wisdom.
Habi went on to tell a story of a man from Ethiopia whom he deeply respected. This man was from the Korah dump. He had lived there for years, and then God brought him out of the dump and to America. I cannot remember if it was for an education, but I am guessing it was. The man was in America for several years, but then went back to Ethiopia. Habi said that instead of the man going back in all of his fine, American clothing and renting a nice place to live, he came home - to Korah. He stepped back into his literal rags and his life living in the dump of Korah, because he had not forgotten where he came from, and he remembered who he left behind, and he wanted to impact the people he loved.
I listened to this and tears cascaded over my cheeks and my Mommy heart broke in two. I could not even envision Habi staying here for years and then stepping back into his street life, but I am not the author of his life story. I am simply a small character in it, perhaps just a stepping stone, and as fiercely as I love this boy as my son, just like with all of my children, I have to hold him loosely, remembering he is first and best God's - not mine.
There are a lot of parallels I could draw from this moment we had with Habi, about remembering spiritually what God brought us from, about not forgetting the ones left behind - the people who still need to hear and receive the love of Jesus. However, I am just going to leave this alone and share this much. I'm still drawing my own parallels and conclusions. I am still learning and growing from this moment as it dances in my head and my heart. Daily my children are teaching me and pushing me to the feet of Jesus.
This was simply a moment that needed to be captured and scratched down, because I don't want to forget.