A year ago today our family of five piled into the minivan and drove to a church outside of Nashville. We sat in the tiny chairs of a children’s Sunday school class and listened as our social worker explained the situation, walked us through paperwork, and we signed our names. Our yes on paper.
Down the hall, in another classroom, Sambhaji played with toys while another social worker did her best to explain to him that he would be leaving his forever family to live with another family – maybe for a little while and maybe forever. Maybe.
After more than an hour of waiting in the same building just a few yards away from each other, our social worker walked us down the hall to the room where Sambhaji was playing.
Four children, all mine now, playing with puppets, dinosaurs and Legos.
Four parents and two social workers making small talk, nervously kind to one another, all wondering what we’d done, all questioning the forever we’d chosen together.
And then, after ten minutes of play, a social worker nodded to me that it was time. Sambhaji put on his backpack. I took his hand. I thanked the man he called “Dad” for his courage, his selflessness, for loving my son well and playing a part of God’s plan to bring him from India to America.
There were tears. A family was broken to bless mine.
And doesn’t blessing always spill out of the broken things?
The ride to our house was long and heartbreaking. Sambhaji whimpered, then wailed. His heart fractured, his mind perplexed, his understanding as limited as his vocabulary. Without words to tell us what he felt, what he wondered, he cried. I kept one hand on the wheel and the other reached back and wrapped around his leg.
“It’s OK to cry,” I said. And it was.
We never got to know Sambhaji through letters and pictures first. We never saw his orphanage in India, the bed where he slept, the windows he looked out of at the world, the table where he ate with friends. We never got to hug the women who raised him, the other children who taught him to share and play and hope.
We never boarded a plane together bound for America, or got off that plane to a crowd of friends and family with tears in their eyes and “Welcome” signs in their hands.
In a church parking lot not far from our house I – just a stranger – buckled a sobbing boy into a car seat and drove him to our house where he’d live as a much-loved guest, not knowing if we’d ever get to call him “son.”
Because the powers-that-be did eventually decide to make me his dad, today is a celebration: The day our family became six, Sambhaji became son (in my heart even if not on paper), and I discovered my capacity to love was so much greater than I’d imagined and that family is not built of blood. It was the first day of forever.
But this day of remembering hurts too. To remember the families he’s left behind, their love for him, their sacrifice for his good. To remember his tears and theirs, his fear, him standing in our driveway that first afternoon looking out across a new subdivision, longing for home-somewhere-out-there. This day last year was the last day of forever.
So I’ve cried a little today in secret. And I’ve promised ice cream after dinner. It’s that kind of day.
This is Sambhaji’s “gotcha day.” A day to mourn a goodbye and give thanks for hello.
God, to all those who no longer have Sambhaji in their life, please give peace today, surrender, comfort, joy. And on behalf of all of us who get to see his smile, hold his hand, pour his cereal and kiss him goodnight every day? Thank you, God. For this year. For my son. For ice cream. Amen.