Memory and Imagination

Whenever I hear Matt Redman’s “Blessed be Your Name” I am on I-84 headed east through the Columbia Gorge, past the giant windmills, towards our favorite eastern Oregon camping spot. Our kids are all small, all strapped to booster seats, all packed in with snacks and blankets and books. Though the drive is excruciatingly long, these are the best of times. 

That song is a soundtrack to a memory. 

Our youngest son wasn’t on those trips. Born almost four years after his nearest sibling, he missed out on some of the memory-making of those summers when we camped a lot. We try to be careful when we remember. Sensitive. 

None of us have memories specific to his first year and a half of life. He spent them in an orphanage in India, surrounded by other babies and rotating staff. A great deal of that time he also spent in the hospital with recurring bronchial infections and pneumonia. Our first sighting of him was on a DVD, narrated by a lovely woman who gave us the phrase, “Shashwat is feeling sleepy” in her heavily accented english, and who told us Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star was his favorite song. 

But he came with no birth story, minimal history, and no shared memories from 17 months of his life. 

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Memories are so pliable. My husband and I both have stories from childhood that we remember a certain way, while those around us have a differing version. Grievances can seem larger and punishments more harsh than they were in reality—we've learned this from our own children's memories. Likewise, the joys of certain events can grow over time and repetition, making a small act of kindness or privilege seem like an extravagance in our minds. This is the power we have, in shaping memories.

Our solution has been to make memories for our son, using our own experiences of India and its culture, and threading in the emotions and trauma common to any young woman giving birth. We tell him how loved he was by his tummy mom, how hard it must have been to give birth at sixteen in a tiny hut in a tiny village, and how, for eight days, she and his grandma struggled to keep him alive. He was tiny and frail when he arrived at the orphanage. We tell him how so many people worked to sustain him and get him healthy. 

We tell him he was wanted, because there are ways to “do without” a pregnancy, and we pray for his tummy mom together on Mother’s Day and on random nights when questions arise. They are hard questions—ones we can’t answer without imagination—and we tell the best and truest version we can. 

Some might call this lying. I prefer to call it Imaginative Redemption, because remembering is redemption, and the past lives in the stories we tell about it. We can tell any kind of story, avoid all kinds of truth, or settle for answering all the questions with “I don’t know"—but a child needs to know. We’ve chosen to make the best memories we can imagine for our son. 

God commanded Israel to set up memorial stones and called them to imagine a day when their children would ask, “What do these stones mean to you?”—a day when they would be far removed from the crossing of the Jordan and they would help their children imagine all the ways God cares and will care for them, by remembering all the ways he’d done so in the past. He unites curiosity with remembering, giving us an open-door for telling a good story.

I don’t remember anyone ever warning us about the questions our son would have when we were in the cumbersome process of adopting. I’m sure it came up in our training classes or our home visits, in the reams of paperwork we read and videos we watched; but until you are in the thick of the moment, until you have context for something, you don’t fully grasp it. We tell his story and answer his questions with all the redemption we honestly can. We try to create the healthiest memories for each of our children by telling them the truth—bad things have happened, mistakes have been and will continue to be made. But here is the redemptive imagination that keeps us going: God slipped on skin and flesh to buy back your memories and do more than you could ever ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20). When circumstances are beyond any we can control, God asks Is anything too hard for the LORD? and then delights in blowing our minds. 

A "true story”—which is not always the one we tell ourselves—roots us in a past experience of God’s goodness, because he is always behind, and gives us an imagination of his future goodness, because he is always ahead. We live in the moment with these memories and this imagination, and for every pleasure remembered, every memory forgotten, every blank space in a life we know was full of goodness, there is a redemptive story to be told.  Our kids will develop their own soundtrack to their memories and they'll exaggerate the stories and miss some details, but we hope a redemptive imagination will help them with the lyrics. 

How to be Born Again and Again

 thatch roofed hut in India, international adoption, Indian home,

It was probably a grass and mud and thatched-roof hut.

She was only about 15 years old, surely scared and confused, and maybe she didn't really know all that was happening.  But she knew life was coming and she chose it for you.

She chose life for you.

And for eight days, she and her mother tried to keep tiny-you alive.  You were probably less than 4 pounds, less than a gallon of milk, and if you had been here you would have been in NICU.

But you started life in the dirt and the poverty of the India we love. It was two months before the terrible tsunami in the Indian Ocean.

Your dad spent six weeks there in the villages of southern India, giving rice, blankets, and Hope.  Weeping with grieving parents and listening to  horrific stories, wading through so much destruction and loss and heartache.

orphanage in India

You were born in our hearts then. We didn't know you yet, just like we didn't know your brothers and sisters when we started loving them.

You can love someone you've never seen, Ethan.

So your tummy mama gave you life again when she brought you to the orphanage, just eight days old and clinging.  And this is what we keep telling you, again and again.

Life has been chosen for you so many times, and hallelujah,  this year you chose Life for yourself! You chose the Savior who chose you before the foundation of the world. You chose to love Someone you've never seen, too.

And again, you were born.

Born in a hut.  Born in our hearts. Born into a Forever Kingdom.

beautiful smiling boy, fall leaves, international adoption

nature walk, international adoption, child enjoying nature

coaching football, boy with surprised look, international adoption

Ethan Shashwat. Your Indian name means everlasting and continuous. Ethan means steadfast.

You are wonderful, and you are steadfast, continuous, and everlasting.

You held on to life for 17 months before we were able to hold on to you.  Daddy held you that first night in the hotel as you screamed through your first tub-bath.  I held you through the Hong Kong airport as we raced for our flight and your rice and buffalo milk raced out of your little body.  I wore you and your vomit right over my heart, and the 36 hours home was certainly like labor.

That's your birth story, Ethan.  And it's not like anyone else's story except that it was painful and you were always loved.

And today you turn 8.  You can read books by yourself and make your own bed, you're an amazing artist and goofy little brother, you share your desserts, eat grasshoppers for shock value, run so hard I'm afraid you might fall, and you live an everlasting life.

We love you, Ethan Shashwat.  Happy birthday - no school and no chores for you today!

A Contemplation of Ethan the Ezrahite. I will sing of the mercies of the LORD forever; With my mouth will I make known Your faithfulness to all generations. For I have said, "Mercy shall be built up forever; Your faithfulness You shall establish in the very heavens." "I have made a covenant with My chosen, I have sworn to My servant David: 'Your seed I will establish forever, And build up your throne to all generations. ~ Psalm 89:1-4

 

Sharing this today at Imperfect Prose.

The Value of You, Right Where You Are

Already, there is this desire to choose.
Are we born with that?  Do we come from the womb defiant at the choices made for us?
Why did God put me here?  Why am I different?  Maybe I am not supposed to be in this family, in this place.
He's seven and where did he get these questions?
The not-belonging and the longing for something else, something we know nothing about, all those thoughts started in the garden.
Adoption is not all warm-fuzzy and we never thought it would be.  Sometimes, it is such a clear picture of our life in Christ, of God choosing us and giving us family.
But truly, we have to choose that adoption for ourselves.  It's the one case where we do choose our Parent, but do we ever really get to choose our place?
He's seven and he is upset about some discipline handed out, and isn't that when we all question our place?
So he thinks he belongs somewhere else but he doesn't see the big picture.
Like the children of Israel longing for Egypt.
I tell Ethan that we couldn't hold him and love him and laugh with him while he was in India. That we're all different, with different gifts and personalities and talents, different colored skin and eyes and hair, but God has put us together and our family is perfect this way.
I give him a hug and tell him I love him, because that's what he really wants.
Do you ever question your place?
Do you possibly mistrust the God Who holds your breath, the One Who preappointed your times and the boundaries of your dwelling? (Acts 17:26)
Do you long to be somewhere bigger, better, more important or more satisfying?
Wherever you are, God is sovereign.  Whatever your struggle, rest in His handling of it.  He sees the biggest picture.
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Counting all the gifts this week, some of them numbered here:
291.  Jacob enjoying the outdoors, and waking up thankful for his bedroom - the deer, the turkeys, the yellow birds at the feeder outside his window
292. our first 7-miler in 7 months
293. hot water and epsom salts, the morning after 7 miles
294. Ethan, the first child up this morning, monopolizing the one-on-one time
295. this verse:
And by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.
~ Acts 13:39
296. children with eyes to see His goodness and to delight in His creation (Jacob calling me upstairs this morning to see the bird in the window, because he knows I love birds!)
297. Sisters making a picnic