When people find out that our son joined our family through adoption I am often told how "lucky" Matthew is. Now that we are working on our second international adoption the platitudes continue. "What a great thing you are doing for these children. They are so lucky!" And I always respond the same way. "No, we are the lucky ones." And we are. We truly are. Matthew's grandparents, cousins, friends- they are all lucky. I have always held true to my belief that while my son certainly has been afforded opportunities he would never have seen had he stayed in China, including the love of a forever family, we cannot say for sure that ripping him from the country of his birth makes him "lucky". His life in China would have been different, yes. But our American ideals and my son's ability to attain them aren't necessarily better. We, as Americans, think they are- the nice house, the home cooked meals, the toys, video games, educational opportunities - these are hard to say no to. That is how we think, but that is is not how our whole world thinks. Tradition, culture, simple pleasures, honesty, hard work- these ideals, while not tangible- are important to the people of my son's birth country. So I really don't want to say that he is "lucky".
Last night my husband and I attended A Night With The Chapmans. It was a great night of music with Steven Curtis Chapman and his family. His wife, Mary Beth, spoke and read from her new book, Choosing to SEE. The tour is basically a fundraiser for show HOPE, an organization started by the Chapman family to help orphans around the world. As we settled into our seats the big screens began to display a video about this amazing organization. Images of babies and children from all over this world filled the screen. Many of the pictures were of Chinese babies with cleft lips and cleft palates. It was a very emotional moment for both my husband and I.
Later in the show a fellow musician and close friend of the Chapman family took the stage to talk about show HOPE. He talked about Maria's Big House of Hope, an orphanage recently opened by the show HOPE foundation in the Henan province of China. Not too long ago a medical team came to Maria's Big House of Hope to complete cleft lip and palate surgeries on the babies and children living there. The speaker then explained that the Chinese officials were so impressed with this project that they are talking to show HOPE about running a floor of already established orphanages for special needs babies. Special needs babies, like our little guy. We toured the orphanage Matthew lived in when we traveled to China and we saw the special needs "room". Crib after crib of forgotten and discarded children. Our son's crib was in that eerily quiet room.
As I sat there vacillating between hope and tears brought on by the inspirational music and powerful words it suddenly hit me. I can't believe I never figured this out before. I guess I always knew but didn't want to think about it. We are a family first, and a family brought together by international adoption second. The daily ins and outs of being a family always come first- the baths and bedtimes, sippy cups and games of tag- that is what I am all about these days. It may not always seem that way because so much of my writing is about the adoption side of our life, but it's true. So maybe life just got in the way. Or maybe I needed to be a little further removed from the adoption journey to fully understand the positive implications of what we have done by bringing Matthew into his forever family.
Our little man talks from the moment he wakes up until his eyes close at night. He sings and hums to himself constantly. He loves to snack on cheese curls and apples. He would not be able to do any of those things had we not brought him into our family. He wouldn't be able to hear the music as well without the tubes in his ears. he wouldn't be able to eat crunchy food without the repaired palate. He wouldn't be able to form understandable words to talk and sing. He was malnourished when we first met him and the fact is that babies with unrepaired cleft palates grow into children who are sickly and weak, if they grow into children at all. An unrepaired palate means difficulty in school and in forming relationships. And in China, where there are already considerably fewer girls than boys, an unrepaired cleft palate means no bride. No significant other as best friend and confidant. No intimacy.
I sat in my seat while everyone around me was standing up and clapping to the upbeat music, letting the truth just wash over me. We did save him. He would not be the boy he is today. He would not have the potential he has today. He would not light up a room with his smile or be the life of the party. In fact, he might not be.
Next time someone tells me how "lucky" Matthew and his future sibling are that we adopted them, I will still respond by saying "no, we are the lucky ones." And that will be true, we certainly are lucky. But in my heart, I know that my kids, the one here today and any future wilkisons, are lucky also. When you can suddenly see a part of the big plan God has for our lives, it's awesome. Last night, a small part of that plan became a little more clear.