“I change after America.”
She tells me this in the midst of catching up on her life: her friends, her activities, where relationships stand.
I am surprised.
She puts on a tough exterior, this girl of mine. Heavy matters are dismissed with a shrug, everything is “whatever,” and life is transient. This girl, surrounded her whole life by people caught up in their own lives, quietly teaching her that her emotions don’t matter, that even if she wants something no one is going to stop to worry much about it. There were times of care and love, but….always the but.
I can’t fix the but. I can’t fix her. I choose not to try to fix her. That’s not my job anyway.
I think often people see orphan care as a process of “fixing.” There are these children, and they are broken, and all we have to do is come in and give them love and a family environment and poof! All of the hurt and loss and broken is gone. Sheesh, these kids should be grateful for our generosity! They should be so thankful. And once they get a good old fashioned dose of family lovin’…why, they will go away mended. Better.
That’s not how it works. They aren’t cars coming in for repair or tarnished silver in need of a good polishing. They are people. People who have lived in hard places. People who have loved in spite of the darkest of spaces. The thing these people need is not fixing. It’s love. Love unconditional, love not tied to the expectation of a result, love given without hope of return.
And as I listen to my girl talk, I hear that this is what it was. This is what changed her.
“I change because I come,” she says. “I change because I know I can do things now. I come to America all alone. Me. No one tell me to do this, and no one come with me. I know now that I can make choices. I know I can choose who to help, who to listen to, who to have as friend.”
Please note: I did none of this. All I did was give her the opportunity. All I did was open up my arms, my home, and my heart. The change came because she was brave enough to accept the welcome.
I “fixed” nothing. I loved. I loved a girl I didn’t know, because I know love unconditional, given sacrificially for me.
And we talk and I ask her the ways this change has played out in her relationships, and she tells me how her friendships have changed because of who she is now, and how hosting has altered the fabric of her thoughts but some of her friends don’t understand it. I smile sympathetically. I know that pain, too.
She tells me that she realizes that she doesn’t have to be passive in her choices; she’s realized the strength that comes with standing again after loss. It’s a disorienting thing to know you are strong and resolute and vocal, and to still become a victim of others’ actions. It causes you to question everything you are. And she’s always been strong, but when her world collapsed, she had to reorient herself, and she needed to figure out who she could be truly open with. Coming to America helped her realize this. I catch my breath. She is telling my story, too.
She tells me that she has found others like her, who have experienced hosting, and what that has done for their friendship. She tells me about her friends coming for the first time this summer, and how happy this makes her. She tells me how there is a special connection with those others who understand this time in America. I nod. Those are my thoughts, too.
These things that have changed for her…they are not things I have done. They did not happen because we were the perfect family and we taught her all of these amazing things about life. I don’t think I “fixed” a single thing in that sweet girl’s life.
But I hugged her. And I told her I loved her. All I did was show up. I listened every day. And then I listened more. And then I listened to the revised version with a little more truth in it because there was more trust built. And then I told her how I would always listen.
She left me at the end of Christmas hosting appearing to be unchanged. And she went home and realized how different things were. But she never told me. It’s been six months of Skype and Facebook and packages and loving across an ocean. And only now do I hear how this mattered to her. I know I’m one of the lucky ones, because most people don’t get to hear how their actions changed others.
And so we sit in my kitchen, two very broken people with no easy answers or fixes. But with each other.
I change after America, too, my girl. Thank you.
This post was featured on the blog for New Horizons for Children. For more about hosting, click here.