It’s been three weeks since I cried my way through the Atlanta International Airport, clinging to the hand of a boy who stole my heart and rocked my world.
Three weeks since that boy placed his hands on my cheeks and beamed as “Ayi ku la.”
Three weeks since we said “zai jian” to the 10-year-old superhero we can’t stop thinking about, reminiscing about, talking about or praying for.
I never knew three weeks could feel like such a lifetime ago and almost yesterday at the exact same time.
That boy, he wrecked me. Utterly, completely, wholly, fully wrecked me.
In the surprise of my life, God used a 10-year-old orphan from China to rewrite my definition of “love.” To turn my world upside down. To reveal my flaws. To shine a light on the dark spots of my heart. And to teach me about a NEW kind of love. A bold kind of love. A kind of love that gives itself wholly and unashamedly and FULLY without reservations, even when the person offering it knows that a 200 percent kind of love WILL end in a 100 percent chance of pain when the person being loved and the person doing the loving have to say goodbye at some point in the future.
Especially when the person imagining herself to DO the loving finds that SHE IS INSTEAD the one 200 percent fully LOVED.
Before DJ came to our home, my mouth declared that we would love this sweet boy with open hearts and open hands. But my HEART said, “But just 75 percent of the way, Michelle. Just 75 percent of the way.” Because even though I wanted this orphan who had never experienced the love of a mother or a father or of brothers or of FAMILY to EXPERIENCE the hard core, all-in, crazy, chaotic joy of family life, my heart worried that, if we fell in love with this boy, the impending goodbye would just be too hard.
“Just leave a 25 percent spacer,” my heart kept saying. Hug, but don’t cling. Hold, but don’t fully snuggle. Affirm, but don’t look deep into eyes, into souls, because what you might find there is the longing that you, too, have. To be loved. To be fully loved. To be boldly, audaciously, WITHOUT RESERVATIONS, 200 percent loved. And if you start loving that way, Michelle, your heart might just break.
Protect your heart.
Protect your superheroes.
Love well, but just don’t love too much.
For the sake of your family.
But then we met DJ.
And he learned how to hug.
And he discovered what it meant to be held.
And after THREE SHORT WEEKS in what takes those of us who were RAISED in loving families and with doting parents and with unconditional love sometimes a LIFETIME to figure out … this boy learned to love. To fully love. To unconditionally love. To boldly, audaciously, without reservations LOVE.
When he saw one of us sad or looking down, he didn’t tell his heart to only respond 75 percent of the way. He ran to us, placed his hands on our cheeks, looked deep into our eyes and asked us if we needed to cry.
When he met new family members who had been standing in the foyer of our home for 5 seconds, he ran to greet them and, without concern for what they thought of him or whether they liked him or whether or not they were touchers or people people at all, he immediately LEAPED into their arms, sometimes toppling them over, greeting them with this new love he had learned where people who care about each other TOUCH each other and HOLD each other and get close enough to be IN each other’s spaces and hearts and lives.
When he knew he only had a week left with our family, he dug in. He loved harder. He gave more. He peeled back every layer of his decades-long sheltered heart and exposed every nook and cranny of this beautiful personality to people he had known for only three weeks. He cried when he needed to. He expressed joy through physical touch whenever he wanted. He loved LOUDLY. He loved FREELY. He loved WITHOUT RESERVATIONS.
And when he said goodbye, he left with a smile. Massive hugs. No regrets.
THAT is big, bold, hairy love. THAT is crazy love. That is colossal, counter-cultural, almost inconceivably AUDACIOUS LOVE.
To love at 200 percent, even when you KNOW it is going to hurt.
To love with all you have, even when you know that you only HAVE a short period of time.
To be ALL IN … even when “all in” NOW means “in a million little pieces” later.
And it came not from US — from a family who had the luxury of spending a lifetime wrapped in this kind of love but worried about selfishly preserving some of that love for the safety of their own hearts. But from an orphan, who had NEVER EXPERIENCED that kind of potent, intense, all-in kind of love before.
AN ORPHAN modeled for us that kind of love.
DJ opened my eyes and gave me new passion and vision for the ways I want to now love — other superheroes, other children, my very own family. And after seeing the view of “love” from this side, I’ve lost the desire to view it through my former safe, comfortable, convenient right-side-up glasses ever again.
Because my former right-side-up world often tells me that love should be safe. It should be portioned. It should be given in very conservative rations and, when not returned, it should be immediately withdrawn and saved for someone who can return it.
The right-side-up world tells me that love shouldn’t cost too much. Require too much. Demand too much. It should be easy. It should be convenient. And when it becomes neither, it can be discarded. Because love that is neither easy or convenient isn’t beneficial, and in this culture, love is too often REALLY all about ME.
The right-side-up world tells me to guard my love. To hold back some. To love with reservations … so that I will keep myself from getting hurt. To love only enough that I don’t appear too eager to lavish it upon anyone. To give, but not to give everything.
But what DJ taught me is that love ISN’T safe. It doesn’t provide guarantees. Love DOESN’T come in rations. And true love can’t be stored away or saved away or set aside for a more convenient time or a more “deserving” person.
Loving this boy we knew was not ours to keep was one of the most emotionally dangerous ventures of our lives. And even as we prepared to let him go after falling in love with him for a month in our home, we asked ourselves, “Was this worth this pain? Was this worth this heartache? Was this WORTH having our children fall in love and become attached to their new best friend only to say goodbye to him one month later?”
And the answer we’ve all come to even now, three weeks later, is YES.
Throughout our lives, there will be people we have the opportunity to love. Some of them, like our families, we will get the honor of loving for a lifetime. Others, we will only get a small window of opportunity to pour love upon.
The question is – HOW are we going to love them? Are we going to love them with rules and conditions and parameters? With protective heart cases? With right-side-up goggles that say, “Just don’t get too close”?
I’m not talking about needed and necessary relational boundaries. There are for SURE physical and emotional boundaries needed in the DEMONSTRATION of LOVE.
I’m talking about the attitudes of our HEARTS.
Are we going to show compassion with reservations and conditions? Or are we going to love them BOLDLY. FIERCELY. WITH TOTAL ABANDON. Without concern for the cost?
The same way DJ loved us.
The same way God still does.
God didn’t withhold even His one and only son for ME to experience true love. And when God pours HIS PERFECT LOVE into MY IMPERFECT HEART, I can love fiercely, recklessly, lavishly. IN FREEDOM. Without fear.
Because if my source of love is OTHERS, it will hurt too much when I have to love and leave.
But if my source of love is GOD, that well never ends. I can draw from that well again and again. I can stand under that fountain and soak in love and BATHE in love and LIVE in love. I never have to worry that there will not be enough love to go around. And I can be a hose that takes from that fountain and recklessly pours GOD’S LOVE on others … without concern for the cost.
Others may respond harshly. Others may hurt me in return. But if my source of love is GOD, there is never a time THAT well runs dry. And there is never a time I can’t replenish that love. I don’t have to worry. I don’t have to fear. Because HIS PERFECT LOVE casts out fear.
His perfect love gives me permission to love with boldness. His love gives me FREEDOM to love AUDACIOUSLY.
Because love is NOT ABOUT ME. It’s about the privilege I get to share the love God pours into my heart with others. Not to distribute it to those who can return it. Not to protect it so that it doesn’t hurt too badly when it’s taken away or not returned. Because ultimately, it’s not mine to give. It’s GOD’S. HIS LOVE that I get the privilege of stewarding through my feeble and often failing hands.
And God’s BIG, BORROWED love makes a WAY bigger impact that my feeble, protected, 75 percent kind of human love could EVER make anyway. Even when it hurts. Especially when it hurts.
Even when that kind of big, bold love leaves a DJ-shaped hole in our family’s hearts.
That hole — what I feared as an ailment if I loved too much or loved too hard, God actually gave me as a gift.
Without that hole, I go right back to my right-side-up goggles. The goggles that viewed the world through love with limits and love with conditions and love that is afraid to give FIERCELY and WHOLLY and FULLY without reservation.
This hole, it reminds me that the view from the other side is so much better. So much RICHER. So much more rewarding.
That hole – it drives me on. It keeps me passionate. It reminds me that, as much as I feel the pain of this sweet boy’s absence, 132 million other children are experiencing a pain FAR GREATER as they pray and wish and wait for PARENTS.
That hole drives me forward. That hole keeps me motivated. That hole gives me a small window into the pain of THESE children, so that I don’t ever allow myself to become complacent in RECEIVING the love of my own family …. but I keep my eyes focused on those God has called our family to LOVE.
And the best way I could ever use my love or that of my family is in FULLY, BOLDLY, AUDACIOUSLY loving some of God’s most precious children … with HIS borrowed, perfect love.
We now know that hosting isn’t easy. We now know that it leaves holes in hearts that even now, three weeks later, are still tender to the touch.
But we also know that our pain is a small sacrifice for the large gain that a CHILD experiences when he finds a forever family. That our aching hearts are incomparable to DJ’s heart, had he hit 14 and lived on the streets.
That these children are precious. That they’re valuable. That they’re WORTH IT. And that it is THEY, not us, who are the BIGGEST blessings … and teach us the most important life lessons.
THEY are the ones who’ve taught us perhaps the MOST about LOVE.
And that’s why we’re counting down the days until we get the privilege and honor of hosting yet again … in just three short months. :)
Interested in hosting a child this winter? There are 20 Chinese superheroes-in-waiting still waiting for host families to call their own. PRECIOUS angels with the same fervor for life as our summer superhero. If they’re not matched by October, they lose the opportunity to be hosted … which, in many cases, means they lose the opportunity for a SOON forever family. View the files of these superheroes-in-waiting at http://orphanhosting.com/orphan-hosting-photolisting/. And help CHANGE THE ORPHAN STORY this Christmas. <3