January was a tough month for our family. Bitter cold, record snow fall, sick children, and Dennis was out of town for much of it. School was cancelled for a record nine days and to top it off, I was sick as well. The month felt like the movie Groundhog Day... the same thing day, after day, after day. It was maddening. Patience wore thin in all of us, but particularly in me.
In many ways we seemed to have taken a few steps back in bonding with our new daughter. The lack of structure because of the snow days, the lack of being in school- it was a struggle for all of us, but especially for her. It was rough... I'll just leave it at that. And in true self-pitying fashion, I internalized it all.
I was struggling to bond- to want to understand where she was coming from... and there seemed to be crevasse reopening between us- one I thought had closed long ago.
And that's when it happened.
One snowy afternoon, Calista, our five-year old, sat huddled in the corner weeping and trembling piteously. One of her siblings had upset her and I moved in to comfort her. As she looked up at me with tears streaming down her face, I saw and it almost took my breath away. I saw what God needed me to understand.
For a moment I could see her- I saw Hengxin on that terrible day when she was five years old. The sorrow and confusion in Calista's eyes became hers. I saw her trembling and afraid as the kind policeman took her by the hand and led her to the orphanage. I saw her standing alone and terrified among a sea of parentless children. I saw a tiny little girl crying herself to sleep at night, wondering what she had done to deserve this.
And for the first time, it hit me- the immense tragedy that my sometimes-prickly 12-year-old daughter had experienced only a few years before.
It hit me like a ton of bricks. My heart felt like it had broken in two. I had seen her pain and know I understood why sometimes it felt like I couldn't break through her self-protective walls. It all made sense.
I dropped to my knees and wrapped Calista in my arms. I closed my eyes and buried my face in her hair. For a heaven's moment I was hugging that scared little girl on the street corner in China and my heart once again became hers.
That evening she asked if we could talk. She asked me if I would like to know more about her life in China. She was ready to talk now, she said- eleven months after coming home. After the kids were in bed, we sat in the dark in front of the glowing fireplace and quietly talked.
For over an hour I asked and she answered. This little girl who had lived with us for almost a year had in many ways remained a stranger to us until now. I asked everything I could think of. Some of my questions were answered silently with a distant look in her eyes. Apparently she wasn't quite ready to talk about everything yet.
We gave each other a long hug that night and I thanked her. She had given me a gift, I told her. She laughed and asked why.
"Because I know you better now and that helps me to understand more."
A few days later, she asked if we could talk again so she could tell me more, this time with Dennis home to listen.
Guerras Perdidas. Lost wars. I listened to the words to the song on my Ipod as I went running last night. Sometimes it feels that way- like a lost war. No amount of love will ever right the wrong that happened to my little girl. So much damage was done during those 6 years in the orphanage. White and blue butterfly wings are among the ashes, the songs says, of butterflies that were engulfed by the flames.
But that's not how our story ends, I thought. She's not found in the ashes, like the song says. Yes, she flew through the fire, but she came out the other side. The flames may have singed her wings, but every day she emerges stronger and brighter than the day before.