Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Part of the Family

I sat near the front of a crowded bus in Africa about a month ago. Six of us squeezed into a row made for four. A little boy with autism sat next to me, chattering away in a language I knew little of, presumably about the day's adventures. An even smaller girl sat on my lap, snuggled close to my chest and tight in my arms, lulled to sleep by the bounce of the bus.

As my chattering friend leaned on me, his fingers playing with the beads on my skirt as he continued his tale, I wondered if he didn't understand our language barrier, or if he just didn't care. I kept a small smile on my face and my gaze in his direction, hoping to communicate that, though I had no chance of catching it, I was interested in his story. Occasionally, I looked down at the sleeper in my arms, feeling a responsibility to make sure she rested comfortably.

Looking around the bus that afternoon, I couldn't help but marvel at the family that surrounded these two kids. The staff that knew each child by name and story, the older children that looked after the younger, the family members of the children who still had a biological family, walking side by side with the organization set on raising these children to their full potential.

The sweet girl in my arms knew so little about her family that day. She didn't know that these were her brothers and sisters, aunties and uncles. She couldn't anticipate that, somewhere, her mother and father sat, already caring for other little ones in her family. She had no way of understanding, not really understanding the love that surrounded her, because she did not yet have language to tell her so. She hadn't had time to wipe away the abuse and neglect that clouded her vision.

This sweet little girl was born deaf. Raised to be feared, neglected, and hated, she had no chance of even guessing what love could lie before her. She had only come into this family a few short months before we arrived. And, though I knew it would take time, my heart leaps at the idea of her learning, little by little, that she would never again be bound for hours at a time. She would never spend another night in the graveyard she was so often found in. Hunger wouldn't haunt her waking hours. If anyone ever called her cursed or useless again, she could not yet imagine the throngs of family members she now had to defend her as a perfectly created child of the King.

And part of that family... is me. That is an honor that is bestowed upon us when we walk alongside our brothers and sisters that are doing His work. Sure, we may be the relatives that live far away and only get to visit once a year, but on that visit, we are family none the less. Family that brings hugs and games and silly faces and so much love.

On this trip, I was introduced as "Auntie" for the first time. Unless you've been there, I don't know that I can describe to you the joy and weight that that name carries. These kids and the ones that take care of them are my family, not because I've earned it or because I deserve it, but because of the love He has built into us. Because of the way He has knit us together to be a family. This is why I go back, again and again.

We reached our destination that day and I had to hand that beautiful sleeping child over to her teacher. She doesn't know all of these things yet, but as they continue, day in and day out, to give her words while I'm gone, she will hear it and she will feel it and she will love it!

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