I am wildly behind on laundry this week so a few days ago I put on “The Little Mermaid” for the kids and sat down to fold, fold, fold. This is a definite movie favorite in our family – especially for our girls. They love to sing and the songs in this movie are just so fun and very singable. But I think they like it most because it is funny. You know the scenes. When Ariel asks her friend Scuttle what a fork is and he calls it a “dinglehopper.” Oh, I can hear the giggles even now. And when she uses it to comb her hair!? Hilarious!
As I sat there folding, I watched Ariel sign away her voice for a pair of legs and begin her new adventure on land. I watched her stumbling and struggling to walk on her new legs. I watched her realize she was naked (!!!). I watched her comb her hair with her fork at the formal dinner table (whoops!). And, as I sat there folding and watching, I started having flashbacks to a transition in our own family. It’s been a few years since it happened but I remember is so very clearly. We opened our home to a kiddo who needed a place to stay. And then we did it again. And then again. And again.
From the very first moment, which happened to be an evening/bedtime routine, I knew I was a “fish out of water.” It was a little weird for me! I grew up with LOTS of interaction with kids. I’m from a big family, I have loads of awesome nieces and nephews, and I babysat through all my teen years and beyond. Why was I suddenly so inept? I felt all thumbs. I felt a little embarrassed – like I had just combed my hair with a fork in front of dinner guests. And, quite honestly, I felt stripped naked. Vulnerable. Completely exposed.
You see, my childhood – although probably different from yours – was bright, full of sunshine, adventurous, exciting. I remember going camping. Climbing so high in trees that I could feel the tops sway with the breeze. I remember playing outside for hours. I remember the summer we moved and we didn’t have grass planted so we played in a dirt yard all summer long. (Best. Summer. Ever.) I remember that same yard, after we did plant grass, with my plastic horses – the ones with long manes and tails – and I pulled up grass to make round pens for them (probably not my parents’ fondest memory…). I remember running. Swinging. Sledding. Water skiing. Bare feet. Coloring. Biking. Learning. Playing. Fishing.
Sure, I remember getting into trouble. I even had some very sad chapters in my childhood. I remember crying or being angry. But those memories are little bits of my childhood remembrances. Overall, I would say that the color I remember my childhood in is yellow. Most of my childhood memories have a bright, yellow haze around them. They were happy.
And now I think back to that first night. That first night we welcomed a kiddo into our home. I thought a bath would be a good idea. This child was terrified of baths. This was not a temper tantrum. This was not an “I’m not sure I like these new people” thing. This was absolute terror. I don’t know why. I can make guesses. But I don’t know for sure. We skipped the bath. Dried the little one off. I read a story. We prayed and tucked this baby into bed. Turned off the light… and the terror resurfaced. This was our introduction into weeks of new experiences. The hook of the little arm around the dinner plate. Shoveling food so fast. The first time a police siren was heard, my hand was grabbed and I was dragged behind the couch…where we hid…because that’s what you are supposed to do when you hear a siren. The flinches when I reached to rub the little head. The wonder and amazement at what I considered to be “common place childhood experiences.”
We went deeper into that world. There were colors of childhood I never knew existed. I didn’t see much “yellow.” Blue. Red. Even black. At first I was very angry at the adults in this world. How could they create childhoods like this for these little ones!? And then I looked closer. And I saw that their own childhoods had been this way. They were the babies I cared for, but all grown up. I’m not excusing their crimes. But the problem is bigger than those crimes. It’s generations of brokenness and need. Brokenness and need with no intervention. No one reaching in and saying “we love you,” and “we are going to care for you.”
Deeper into that world, and one day I saw my husband in the kitchen and thought, “Have I seen you lately?” There were so many hard things. So many shocking things. So many struggles. It was so different from any other childcare I had done. My world was forced to shrink down to the size of our home. And that small, shrunken world was dark. It was hard. So very hard. It was full of tears and desperate crying out to God. It felt wrong. Everything felt awkward and uncomfortable. We started to wonder if we had made a mistake. Could this really be the right thing to do if it was creating such a mess? A mess in me? In my husband? In our marriage? In our home and life? Could this be God’s will?
We stuck with it. We clung to God and to each other (when we could), and the clouds eventually started to clear. Little by little we began to see. And suddenly we realized that our fun little world full of underwater castles, mermaids, and singing lobsters just wasn’t real life. We had entered another world. The world that God called us to be in, but not of. We were in it, and it was different than we thought it would be. So, so different. This wasn’t just swimming to the surface and peering at life on a boat. This was walking, talking, living on land.
…suddenly we realized that our fun little world full of underwater castles, mermaids, and singing lobsters just wasn’t real life.
I wish I could tell you that we got it. After that first introduction to a world different than ours, we were like, “Oh! These are called forks, and forks are used to eat with!” But it’s just not true. Over and over again as we have welcomed different children, interacted with different adults, and experienced crazy twists and turns, we have felt like fish out of water again. The flopping. The gasping. The feeling that you are literally dying for lack of air. That’s just the way it is. We haven’t “grown past that.” Maybe someday we will, maybe we won’t. It doesn’t really matter. Because there is one things we have grown in. One constant we have learned to recognize in the chaos. The one thing we can count on when we don’t even know where we are anymore.
That is Christ. Our Savior. Our God. The sovereign, good, perfect constant in our life. We know Him. We recognize Him in a world of unrecognizable pain and chaos. He has called us to this. We can follow Him with confidence because He has walked on the earth before. He knows what it’s like to be part of their world. He has asked us to follow Him. So follow Him we will. Into the world, to be part of their world.