Holy Ground

21 June MMXIX
Three years ago today, my youngest son was found by a street sweeper in a public train station in Central China and turned over to police. He was clean and dressed sweetly and bundled with care. It was heartbreakingly evident he had been surrendered with love. Though we would not know it for nearly two years, our journeys to each other across the world began on this day three years ago. I would give almost anything to have the sweet clothes or blanket that had bundled him that day. But since he had been found in such a very public place and was surrounded by so much unknown, the clothes were discarded to keep them from introducing any possible illnesses into the orphanage when he arrived there later in the day.

While I was in China last summer bringing him home, I asked our precious guide in the city where he had been discovered to take us to the location where he had been found when he was about 3 weeks old. I felt strongly about returning to this exact spot. I wanted to witness every part of our son’s journey and pray there with him in my arms. With him strapped to me in a baby sling, I followed our guide to witness this profound place with my nine-year-old son and our Uncle, my Godfather. There is no way to describe the depth of feelings that entered in when we became aware that we were in the last precise place Ren had been with his birth family. And there was something so deeply healing about returning to the exact spot with our baby who had been discovered so lost now that he was so very found.

After returning home from China and having some time to reflect on our pilgrimage there, our 9 year-old, Thaddaeus, shared with me that he was disturbed by where his brother had been found. I explained to him that I could understand his feelings. Though I could absolutely recognize why his finding spot had been chosen, witnessing it was unsettling to me, too. And I was not encountering it at only 9 years old. It was dirty and vulnerable and uncomfortable. My son asked me, “How could anyone leave a baby there?”

I have spent these last months reflecting on this profound question and pondering it in my prayers. And a quiet, yet mighty, awareness has surfaced.

This is my heart’s answer to my son who was brave enough to make the hard, holy journey with me to not only to adopt his brother, but to adopt his brother’s history and story as well. My prayer is that this letter will be a lasting message to his 9-year-old heart when it is no longer the heart of a boy, but of a man.

My dearest Thaddaeus,

We have now been home from China with your little brother for nearly a year and have had some time to process all that we encountered there. I must tell you that I strongly suspect our entire life times will not provide either of us enough time to process our pilgrimage to him completely. That journey was beautiful and exotic but it was also hard and holy. It will be among the sacred encounters that we “ponder in our hearts” into eternity.

You must know that I could not be more proud of the way you welcomed your brother and his culture. I attribute so much of the miraculous way he has bonded to us to the way you “brothered” him in those first days that he was so very frightened as he was ripped from everyone and everything he had ever known. You were gentle with him and patient with his grieving and you were the first person who made him laugh! He trusted you first and when he saw you trusted me, he did, too. There is no gift this side of eternity that you could give your mother that could ever be more precious than that one.

But you had to witness some other hard things in China, too. Not many boys your age can say they have been to an orphanage of over 800 children. You have. And you carried yourself with such gentleness and reverence and grace that my heart was beaming with pride in you! That was hard! But, as we have talked about, loving your brother means loving all of his story. There is no part of his journey to us that I do not want to witness. It all led him to our family and, in that, it is all cloaked in beauty.

Several months ago we talked about the day we visited the spot where Ren was found as a tiny baby. You shared with me that seeing that place was hard for you and you asked me how anyone could leave a baby there.

It is important to me that you know your mother recognizes how uncomfortable and sad that visit was for you. While we were in China, I was so consumed with comforting your brother through his huge transition to us that it may not have been evident to you that there was not a single moment that I was not looking at all we were were experiencing through your eyes. Not for an instant was I unaware of all you were navigating in a foreign land with a young and sweetly tender heart. I need you to know that I have lifted your heart and the way it experienced that day in my prayers ever since. Please know that seeing that finding place was hard for me, too. It was dirty and uncomfortable and not a place that I would ever think to leave a baby. But I am also old enough to see it through the eyes of the mother who chose it. And I can completely recognize why she did.

Our Maeren was found in a very busy place…a place he was certain to be found quickly. He was found across the street from a police station that could take custody of him instantly and keep him safe. And he was found in a province with a wealthier orphanage in China. Since he was found near a train station in the morning, he may have traveled all night and quite far to be found in a place with more resources. As you get older, I pray you will see that, though desperate, this is, indeed, a face of love. Our Ren was undoubtedly loved from the very beginning of his life. For complicated and extremely sad reasons, the expressions of those loves just have different faces.

And I want you to know that in my prayers about all of this, another Baby has surfaced, too. Our faith centers on another vulnerable Baby who was found in a dirty, uncomfortable place. No one expected to find the infant Jesus in a stable where animals sleep and feed. People have certainly wondered of God, “How could you send your Baby there?” No one anticipated finding the King of Kings in such an unexpected place. Yet He was found in this surprise of a place by angels and shepherds and magi alike. And being found there did not diminish His birth or life but, rather, elevated the environment through which He entered.

Mystery surrounds the unexpected finding spot of both baby sons. But somehow the humble place where our Lord was found infuses our baby Ren’s humble finding place with dignity, too. And that precious stable in Bethlehem announced to mankind that dignity is not begotten by where we are born or left or found…but from the One who sent us and loves us into eternity.

I will always be so proud of the grace-filled way you entered into your brother’s story while you were still a little boy yourself. In witnessing the way my sweet son embraced his baby brother and his land of birth, I got a precious glimpse of the amazing man who is on the horizon. And you take my breath away.

I love you deeply and eternally, Baby Brother. Forever and ever…Mama