It was just the three of us, late last night. Jim and I snuggled on the couch, and Habi reclined in a chair. We were relaxing and enjoying being together. The finish line was so close that we could taste it. Today Habi woke up for his last day of his first year in an American school. And last night as Jim and I were reiterating just how proud we were of the work he had put in this year, he looked at us shyly beneath those heavy lashes and said, this is the first school year I have ever finished - not just in America. He had been hinting about that for a few weeks (prior to this, we had understood that he had completed three years of an education in Ethiopia), but came out and told us last night that he had never fully completed one. I am blown away by this child, who never completed even one year of school prior to coming here, who didn't have the rhythm of attending school, or an education background - no study skills, no learning hooks to hang all of this new information on (he had to develop them all from scratch this year), just a few days here and there of scattered education in Ethiopia, that he managed to squeeze in between working to earn money to buy food in order to literally survive. He was never taught English. Ever. He taught himself to speak it, by listening to foreigners and well educated people in Ethiopia. He somehow got a hold of the English alphabet and taught himself how to write the letters - figuring out the strokes painstakingly on his own. The fact that he does not have an education background does not diminish his brilliance, it illuminates it. He came to America, and was plopped into an accelerated private school in the seventh grade - having never completed one year of school before. How frightening this should have been.
But he did it with grace and courage. I really do not know a braver teenage boy than Habi.
As an adult, I cannot imagine that I would have done nearly as well if I were in his position. This year has not been easy. It has been miraculous, and beautiful, and emotional, but not easy. Redemption never is. God provided the perfect school for Habi to attend that would help meet his needs. It is small, close-knit, non-legalistic, and the staff went above and beyond to help Habi and to help us help Habi. I am sure this is the first time that the school had a student with the background that Habi came from, but they did not shy away from the challenge and both staff and students embraced him. Habi grew confident in this environment, and I believe for the first time he felt and knew love from so many sides. This was as valuable as the academics.
There were hours and hours of homework this year. There were tears, there was determination, there was arguments and disagreements, there was perseverance and there was discouragement. Every single person inside our family sacrificed to make this happen. When we thought we could not handle one more algebraic equation, or history date, or science definition, when we felt strangled by the literature, by the monotonous phonics work, we linked arms and did it together. And one assignment after another piled up into an entire school year, and in the midst of traveling 3 plus hours a day, Jamesy's therapies, attaching as a family, medical crises, grief for a country and loved ones an ocean away, the Spirit pushing us to move on, in the midst of the exhaustion and lies that Satan loves to feed children from hard places, in the midst of the biggest transition in all of our lives, the calendar has fallen through months and we have made it to the finish line.
And it was worth it to see Habi's beaming face this morning, to know the accomplishment he feels in having a full school year under his belt. I cannot make people understand what this year has been like, and it is not my job, to. I am learning to brush off the criticism and the emails and messages that accuse me of giving Habi more attention than my other three children. The snide remarks about how many photos took up my facebook and blog of Habi and the lacking of photos of the other three. What I cannot make people understand who have never dealt with it, is how much lost time we have to make up for, how empty his love bucket was when he came to us, how insecure, lonely, and needy our son was. How critical this first year was. How two of my children were born into a home filled with love, words of affirmation, cuddles and daily their little love buckets are filled (and were still being filled this year), and one child two years of the same, and is finally starting to understand the permanence of our love. But Habi, came to us empty, so empty in so many ways, and while his story is sacred for him so I type carefully here, he NEEDED every single time his mama or daddy bragged about him on facebook, he needed the adoration, the public display of love, the photos, the screaming and cheering from the sidelines, the over-the-top excitement for every single first. He needed it and he still needs it, and I am done apologizing or feeling guilty. Because the result and the redemption that is happening is because God guided us to love him up BIG - in outrageous ways this year. I regret none of it.
He is not the same child that we met two years ago. He is not the same child that stepped onto American soil last July. And he is not the same child who bravely entered seventh grade this September. God, truly, has changed his life......and our life in the process.
You did it, my sweet, beautiful, brave boy! Keep following Jesus, for He is so very, very near. He always was, Baby. When you felt the loneliest, He was right there. And He is here now, and so are we. I love you. To Ethiopia and back.