I don't limit myself to any genre, but I do find that my tastes have changed and I read very little fiction these days, finding biographies and real life narratives to be far more interesting. With our book club at church I have read some wonderful selections, things I would likely never have picked up but really enjoyed. The book we discussed last night though, was one that I would have absolutely grabbed off the self on my own had I seen it first.
This Flowing Toward Me: A Story of God Arriving in Strangers was an insightful and deeply moving work in which author Sister Marilyn Lacey shared her encounters with God as discovered in her interactions with refugees. Her compassionate and Spirit filled descriptions of life as seen through the eyes of those newly arrived on American soil helped the reader imagine, if only briefly, the terror, confusion, and anguish of their circumstances.
While I found much that was rich in this book, there was one line that really stood out for me. After sharing a tale of a young Sudanese refugee hospitalized for an appendectomy fearfully asking about the organ donor permission form, she takes his literal question of "Why would I want to give my heart to a stranger?" and turns it into something beautifully metaphoric, and it had me asking myself "Why WOULD I want to give my heart to a stranger?"
Although there was much in the book that I had little to no experience with, maybe the fact that I have actually had to ask myself this question repeatedly over the past several years was why this statement resonated so deeply with me, and called out to me to consider it on an even deeper level.
There is an experience unique to adoptive parents, I think, in that we literally do give our hearts to strangers. Our family is absolutely NOT unique in this. We all intentionally put ourselves in a position of incredible vulnerability as we approach a child and make a lifelong commitment to them long before we really even know them. It is a reciprocal act, as the child does the exact same thing, and both parties hope desperately to be accepted, to be bound together by the invisible bonds of love that sometimes take years to braid together into a strong cord.
I remember sitting in front of the computer screen the night we received word that Kenny was no longer Toktogul Mursaev, but just a few hours earlier had become forever Kenneth Toktogul LaJoy. We now had a new son, 8 1/2 years old, and in an unusual twist in international adoption, we had yet to even meet him. Yes, you read that right, we legally adopted a child, court was completed, he had our name, and other than a couple of photos we had never been in his presence.
It was past midnight, and Dominick was fast asleep, and there was this moment where I thought to myself "This is sheer madness!! I would never recommend this to anyone else in a million years! What in the world have we done?" and yet despite the truth of that statement, despite what should have been an overriding sense of fear and moving into self-protection mode, there was nothing but complete joy. We were parents again!! We had a new son!!
I can honestly say that God drove that bus, God guided our every move, and God flowed in and around us throughout the entire process. I can't begin to tell you the strange yet wonderful mix of emotions that draped over me as I met Kenny for the first time, knowing I was meeting the son who already bore our name, and that there literally was no turning back. He was tiny, he was darling, he was an overstimulated wreck! God continues to flow through Kenny and into our family, as God flows through each of us and into the heart of our family.
Each of us was at one time a stranger to one another, each of us has had to ask the question in real life "Why would I want to give my heart to a stranger?" For some in the LaJoy family, it was not very obvious that they should give up their heart, for others it was a simple act of acceptance and they never looked back.
Sister Marilyn Lacey's answer to the question was "Because God shows an unnerving proclivity to show up in the stranger's guise." How true this is!!
So, now that I have managed to practice this a couple of times in my life, the question now is, how do I put it into practice in life aside from adoption? How do I take what I have learned, and search for God in the eyes of the stranger...one who might at first be a heck of a lot scarier than an infant? How do I challenge myself to take ever bolder risks, how do I encourage myself to keep seeking God in those places and faces that seem so unfamiliar and admittedly make me uncomfortable?
You know what the coolest part is? It is that I have already had a taste of it, I already know the intensity of experiencing God in the eyes of a stranger...even one who at first rejects you. After reading this book, I think I have a better understanding of why so many parents return to adopt a second or third time, or even more. It is because, whether they identify it that way or not, they are experiencing the fullness of what God has to offer all of us when we give our heart to the stranger. It is not about doing good works nor about taking care of someone who needs you. It is that God is present in an act that is all powerful, we catch a glimpse of something hard to describe. While others may say "Oh, you are such a saint to 'save' those kids!" what they don't know, and might not ever be able to understand, is that you yourself have somehow, miraculously, been saved.
I want God to flow toward me. I want to continue to feel that deepen. I want the courage to do more, to feel more, to LIVE more. I think my prayer for a long time to come will be "God, help me give my heart to the strangers I encounter, God help me feel you flowing toward me." If I can succeed at this, if I can surrender myself to that one single thing, then I can't even begin to imagine what amazing things might happen in and around my life. I yearn for it.