Part 4: ONE OF H1S VERB-LOVE STORIES
ONE OF H1S VERB-LOVE STORIES
One of H1S is a 10-week series telling the Sage Harvest story of how two became ten ... and a jerky store.
My handsome D.C. Williams had just returned from one deployment while we watched on the horizon another one looming, and we were in that sweet place of “hello” while we tried to keep at bay the impending angst of “goodbye.”
Deacon was 6 years old and Salem was now 1, and as we watched one sweet boy heal and thrive even despite imperfect, mostly single-parent circumstances, and we saw what life could look like for the other one when a child indeed had from birth two parents to love, we knew we couldn’t let our experience in Vietnam remain there.
“I think we need to do this again,” I said as D.C. pushed Salem in the jogging stroller beside me in Kentucky and we trailed behind the boy who had rocked our worlds.
D.C. completely agreed and, making light of the truth, said, “And by WE I mean YOU need to do this again. Because I’m leaving.”
This time, we didn’t walk into adoption with a picture of the perfect child we thought we needed for our family.
This time, after seeing the faces of a room full of deserving children, we called the adoption agency and asked, “Where is the NEED?”
We were married longer than we had been during the first adoption, we were older and we now had more options available to us.
The need, our reputable agency told us, was for slightly older special needs boys born in China.
So that’s where we ran.
We rushed through paperwork and homestudies with a little more experience this time, but, because of life circumstances and an impending move, we asked our agency to please put our process on hold so that both D.C. and I could be involved in it.
That’s because, between deployments, we had decided for the kids and me to move back to California. In our year in Kentucky, we had been slammed with multiple unexpected trips and deployments, and without community, life felt a little lonely and challenging.
D.C. is never here, so why are we? I wondered.
So, when Salem was 1 ½ years old, we rented a place in our hometown in California and moved.
We bought a jalopy and loaded up a trailer. And by trailer, I mean that we pretended to BUILD a trailer by constructing panels along the sides of something that could be conceived as one and loaded all our household goods as if it were actually a legitimate ride.
I flew to California with the kids and D.C. drove our make-shift moving vehicle across the country.
That’s when he called me.
“I have good news and bad news,” he said in his trademark phrase that always seemed to wreck my life.
“The good news is that I’m halfway there!”
“The bad news is that the wheels fell off the trailer.”
We laughed and joked about how this was foreshadowing for the wheels falling off our life and then came up with a plan B.
He rented a U-Haul in the middle of the country, completed the trip and flew back to Kentucky, where he deployed for eight months from there.
A couple months following our move to California, I received the call.
“Hey, Leia, I know you were hoping to slow down the process and put your adoption paperwork on hold, but we have a 2-year-old little boy who we feel would be a really good fit for your family. Would you be willing to consider him?”
We had placed our process on hold. I was in the throes of raising a 6-year-old and a 1 ½-year-old by myself while my husband was on another continent for eight months. And I had 24 hours to decide.
D.C. and I weren’t as communicationally connected as we were during later deployments, and for the life of me, I couldn’t reach him. I sent emails to everyone I knew who might be physically present with him, but there was no response.
As far as D.C. knew, adoption was on hold.
But here in the United States, there was a child who had the opportunity to grow up not in an orphanage but in a HOME.
So I said yes.
D.C.’s fierce fearlessness was beginning to rub off on me, and I knew that the answer was yes.
After the Vietnam orphanage experience, the answer would always be yes.
After I had already told our agency that we would move forward, D.C. called me from a satellite phone on a roof top in the Middle East.
“Well,” I told him, a little bit shyly, “you have a son!”
D.C., with all his wit, replied, “I hope you mean through adoption, because if it’s biological, the math doesn’t quite work out right!”
His words and humor, even through tears, told me how happy he was to be a father yet again.
D.C. returned from that deployment, immediately flew to California and, within two weeks of his return to the United States, along with our entire family, flew to China in May 2011.
Only we had an extra special extra passenger this time.
Oma, the same woman who had walked me through kindergarten and airport security lines, surprised us and paid for our plane tickets to China.
And then volunteered to come with us herself.
She knew that Salem could be a challenging toddler, and she had such a special relationship with Deacon. The gift she gave us in her accompaniment was the treasure of bonding time with a new child without children we loved dearly fearing that they were second rate.
Because with Oma on hand, NO ONE felt second best.
In May 2011, when we walked into the Civil Affairs Office in Guangdong Province to meet our son, we didn’t know what to expect.
We had met Deacon in Vietnam in the heart of orphanage life, and Chinese adoption was a new experience for us.
It was a Monday, and numerous families crowded into the Civil Affairs Office around us — families who, like us, had spent months and years praying over two-dimensional pictures of children they could no longer picture their lives without.
All the children waiting to be adopted stood with nannies and orphanage officials behind a curtain, and a representative from the Civil Affairs Office stood immediately outside the curtain, announcing last names like he was calling roll in a barracks.
“Capps!” he called after several families before us had proceeded to walk forward and meet their child in flesh for the very first time.
D.C. waited with Deacon and Salem near benches that lined the room while I, the one permitted parent per couple, walked forward.
As I waited for this little person I already fiercely loved to emerge, I felt so conflicted.
Here in this room of eager future parents and shattered children’s hearts was that hard-to-swallow mix of beauty and brokenness.
These children were being cattle called to parents they had never met, all while they grieved over parents they might never know.
We knew that God was giving us the privilege of not saving this child, but playing some small role in H1S redemption story.
And yet the brokenness in that moment overwhelmed me as I grieved for my child who had to experience a second family in the first place.
It was impossible to reconcile.
That’s when out from behind the curtain toddled our 2 ½ -year-old robust little guy. He was donning blue, pinstriped overall shorts, and his slightly over-sized feet were crammed into blue little jellies.
He held tightly to the hand of his nanny as this tiny person we had prayed over for eight fast-moving months of our lives pranced from our dreams into reality before us.
He was totally terrified.
Attempting to protect him from the coldness and brokenness I felt in that room, I scooped him up and took him to the side, where I introduced him to the people he would call Baba and GeGe and MeiMei for every year to come.
After standing frozen for more minutes than I could count, this innocent little man who had waited two and a half years for a home reached into his pockets and pulled out hard candies his caretakers had previously given to him. He downed Chinese-version jaw breakers in a survival mode I had never seen and then, he completely powered down.
We held him close as we returned in our vehicle to the White Swan Hotel, where we ordered noodles from Papa John’s and conducted as many ice breakers as we could think up.
But our newest boy, who we had named Canon, wasn’t just broken-hearted.
He was sick. And running a high fever, at that.
One that induced vomiting all over D.C. Williams.
(Deacon puked all over D.C. in Vietnam. After Canon puked on D.C. in China, we decided that vomiting was the baptismal process of becoming a father to a new child in our family.)
The little man we had just begun calling “son” couldn’t keep down Motrin, because once he vomited once, he just couldn’t stop.
We spent the next few days seeking out Western-trained doctors, flunking out of mandatory medical appointments and holding our breath each time we returned to the medical clinic to be cleared for entrance back into the United States.
Between cleaning up puke, defusing toddler tantrums and navigating life in a foreign country, D.C. and I also spent some time locked in the bathroom together for much-needed pep talks and laughs.
“I think we might be in a little over our heads, baby,” I said. D.C., always quick to comfort and reassure me with his humor, replied, “Oh baby, we aren’t a little in over our heads; we are at least 100 feet under water!”
We finally got our boy back on the road to health and our family back on the road that would lead us out of China and back home as a family of five.
And that’s when we saw the REAL Canon emerge.
From Day One, Canon was a fireball — full of all the energy, rebelliousness and potential one could ever imagine. So much so that my family later nicknamed him “Canon BOMB.”
Because a cannon BALL was not powerful enough to describe this strong, spirited, especially energetic child.
In the airport on our return home from China, I chased after my instant 2-year-old twins, both running in different directions, and soaked up last moments with a husband who was getting ready to fly off in yet another direction. That’s when Oma said to me, “Oh Leia, I don’t know how you’re going to do this! You are going to need help.”
We returned home, said goodbye to D.C., and I quickly understood why Oma was concerned.
The first year home with any newly adopted child can feel like a crucible of hard transitions, endless medical appointments and emotional mountains.
Along with all of the typical medical needs associated with institutionalized living, Canon had chronic strep throat, and we soon realized he also had brought home other infectious and transmissible souvenirs from orphanage life.
Because we had two 2-year-old children (“twin life” was taking full hold), one who was learning to be unafraid of baths and water, neither of whom were potty trained, we had bathed our children together in China.
Which meant that not only did Canon have these ailments; my other toddler had them, too.
For months, my life consisted of single parenting three children while disinfecting everything, purchasing mass amounts of sanitary gloves and running specimens to the lab between nurturing both children and a long-distance marriage with a handful of real phone calls per week.
Canon couldn’t break himself of China time, and that meant all of us were on a 12-hour time difference for months on end and sleep for me was a fleeting thing.
Because he hadn’t grown up in the setting of a private, loving home, he also responded to conflict with anger and aggression, and Salem was often the target of his temper.
Although we could see in him the boy who has taught US the meaning of grace and being quick to forgive, in that season, it just felt like a whole lot of hard.
That’s when D.C. Williams gave me the phrase that changed my single parenting life.
At this point, from his place on another continent, he joked that he was only “some encouraging words and a paycheck.” But his words in this season literally changed my life.
“Baby,” I told him over the phone one day, devastated when Canon was especially needy and life felt especially hard, “I don’t feel like I’m doing a good job loving our newest child.”
“Leia,” D.C. told me in the most reassuring and confident voice. “Love is not a warm feeling you are infused with. Love is something you do. Love is a CHOICE. It’s what you do for our three children every. Single. Day.”
He stopped to think about it.
“Love is a VERB.”
That phrase changed my world.
Love didn’t have to be a warm feeling.
It didn’t have to be this emotion that permeated our conversations and produced a perfect kind of life.
It could be a CHOICE.
It could be an ACTION.
It could be a DECISION we made to pour out God’s perfect love from our clearly imperfect hearts so that our children, no matter whether they grew in hearts or bellies, would experience the FULL, COMPLETE, PERFECT love of CHRIST!
A love that is not transactional.
The very kind of love Jesus showed us on the cross.
The very truest form.
In our shop and in our home, the phrase “Love is a Verb” is now commonplace. (We not only say it, we sing it, because my dear friend, the beautiful Becca Rae, wrote a song for us. Listen to Love is a Verb here.)
Because we know now more than ever that it’s not just a feeling.
It’s not just a word.
It takes work.
It takes intention.
It takes a rolling up of sleeves and a rolling beside of the schedules and agendas we had for our own lives.
And it takes people — REAL people — coming alongside one another, reminding each other that we are called to operate by so much more than our feelings.
Because verb-love changes lives.
The boy who would get me to lean in for a decoy kiss only to head-butt me instead is now the boy who kisses me a thousand times a day.
The boy whose mouth was the source of inappropriate spitting and revengeful biting is now the mouth that tells me how much he loves me and how beautiful I am all day long.
The boy with the hands that were quick to hit is now the boy with the hands that won't allow me to carry groceries or open a door for myself.
And that boy who didn’t know how to be loved or give love, that one with the new mama who clumsily loved him through the hard first years, is the boy who taught me about the truest, richest and most genuine form of love — verb-love.
The kind that, no matter the hardship, no matter the cost, no matter the sacrifice, means we can all love one another as One of H1S, caring for another of H1S, preparing for that day when, through Christ’s greatest verb-love, we can sit at His feet as ALL of H1S.
Did you miss the beginning of the Sage Harvest Story? Not to worry, it's not too late to catch up! Follow the links below for the first three parts of the 10-part series.