Corrie Ten Boom, in her book “The Hiding Place” recalled a time where she and her sister were suffering from an infestation of fleas and lice. As prisoners, it was not an uncommon affliction but for Corrie the question of “why God would have them suffer this plague” was a fair question. Her sister casually reminded her that because of the fleas, the prison guards were leaving them alone. Those fleas had, in fact, saved their lives – not a guard in the camp was willing to risk contracting such misery and as such kept their distance.
The idea that something so repulsive could actually be a gift was running through my mind as I sat in the kitchen, listening for the familiar “clickity-clack” as Bethany’s roller skates crossed the loose metal threshold between the wooden floors of the kitchen and the living room. As long as I heard that sound in a consistent rhythm, I knew I was safe.
When we adopted Bethany, she was just shy of a year old. Born premature at 27 weeks to a very young girl in a remote, Asian country – Soo Bin Kim was an anomaly from the very start. Of course, you can’t see any of this in that little dossier with the paper-clipped photo they send you; cute picture of a little girl being held by a nice Korean foster mother, what could possibly be wrong in that? We knew she had special needs and we knew some of the concerns. “Possibly blind” was one of them. “Hearing impaired” yet another. “Developmental delays” was the most ambiguous, delayed as in “yet to come” or delayed as in “never to come”?
We had intentionally adopted a special-needs girl from a foreign country for any one of a hundred reasons. For me it was the haunting memory of an airport in Latin America at 2am – the number of children carrying infants at that late hour, begging for “sucres” which at that point in time were worth about 1/36th of a US dollar. You needn’t look far past these kids to see the reality of human trafficking, slavery, poverty – you pick the poison, any one could motivate you to want to at least do something. Those things exist in the US as well but at least here there’s some shred of hope for redemption. In that country and many others like it, hope is a luxury that simply doesn’t exist. This so moved my heart to want to take “the least of these” and give them the same hope as King David gave Mephibosheth in the book of Samuel. Grace and redemption – if I could offer a bit of that, then love would be the cornerstone in my life.
Sherry and I talked about our capacity of love for a child that‘s biologically “not our own” and the idea of not loving a child, regardless of lineage or nationality or condition was, well, laughable. I recall the only thing we agreed on was that there was no way we could care for a special-needs child that had significant “cognitive dysfunction”, we simply didn’t have the bandwidth to deal with that sort of need and the two young boys we were already raising. Who could have known that God had other plans?
Those “other plans” of God have a way of eventually consuming you. What you thought were “your conditions” around “your definition” of love get completely scuttled and you end up on the wildest ride of your life and a times, simply hanging on for life. Your friends all disappear, your hope of a vacation goes by the wayside, you never go anywhere as a couple and you eventually find yourself taking comfort in hearing the “clickety-clack” on a metal threshold simply because it signals that her mind is calm, her demeanor: social. Its when the sound stops, that’s when the demons creep in. A spectrum of demons with names like cerebral palsy, autism, severe mental-impairment, retinopathy, hyper-activity and host of other diagnoses that quite frankly, make this little Korean tapestry even more colorful.
Discovering these conditions is nothing like on TV either. There’s no quick identification of the issue, swift diagnoses by a handsome, compassionate doctor who puts your mind at ease with the answer. It was more like, night after hopelessly long night - agonizing in the slow realization that something beyond your control and comprehension was happening. If you were lucky, she’d sleep for more than four hours. You finally start looking for answers among the medical professions and you find yourself like a man, disassembling a car and taking each little part to a different service station, asking the mechanic “what’s wrong”? The answer from the medical mechanics, however, is predictable: wrap all those “little parts” in the duct tape of the medical profession: medication.
All we had were a series of bizarre and heart-wrenching behaviors, which we had to carefully speak of. We had to learn this as well – never mention anything as a “behavior”, always mention it as a “condition”. She runs her head through a cupboard door and you must explain the action as the “result of a medical condition”. Insurance people have acute hearing and the word “behavior” and “denied” are synonymous.
That’s the beauty of Bethany – or Soo Bin Kim as she was know in Korea, the very thing that causes us such sorrow and pain is the thing that holds the greatest blessing. We couldn’t see this until we officially gave up on hoping that things would be “normal”. That realization came in the American Girl doll store in Chicago. We walked in and saw the beautiful mother and daughter relationships that were occurring in that place, the joy and excitement, and we knew that we’d never experience this with Bethany – much worse, she’d never experience it. No one will ever know why the two of us were standing there holding each other as we wept, unfettered by those watching us. That “greatest blessing” comes in the form of clear vision – we can see what beauty really is, what really matters in this life and that something that holds no societal value is perhaps the most valuable artifact of that society.
Bethany, with all her challenges, has a place in the heart of God. I’m sure he cries along with us, bleeds along with us, and sees despair, as do we. My prayer is that, like the fleas and lice that Corrie Ten Boom had issue with, so would we as her sister did - one day see that the affliction is the very thing that gives us life.