I watched him playing today. From the kitchen window as I washed the dishes, he catches my attention. His agile body swiftly running through the grass, away from the older brother who threatens to tackle. His giggle is darling. I can’t hear it through the pane, but I know the sound by heart.
It’s not often the colors of our family are noticeable to me. Yes, we’re white, brown and black. But to me, we’re just us. The Manrys. Pieced together by the Lord, held together in love. It never seems exotic or interesting or unusual, the way our family lives and looks. It’s merely our reality. One we’ve chosen, one chosen for us.
But today, I notice.
I notice his black skin, darkened by the recent African sun. And I choke on my emotion as I consider how he’s mine. How everything inside me feels and knows and recognizes him as a part of me. How is that possible? How is it possible for this black little boy to feel every bit a part of me as the ones born of me? It’s unnatural. It’s exotic! It’s interesting and unusual! Not us, but what He is able to do. Sometimes I’m so busy and caught up in the life of being us, I don’t pause to recognize just how fascinating the Lord is, manifested in the lives of people. His creative works of exotic love and unusual grace are what have colored our life and family. I swallow my emotion and thank God for this life he has shaped for us. This calling to love different. This blessing of children. Because I never would have chosen this on my own.
I think back to when Myles was a baby. Small and sweet, but very little love between the two of us. He preferred Mark and I preferred my other children. Did I just write that for you to read? Myles was stiff, not cuddly like most babies. His drool constantly spilled from his mouth and soaked his face and shirt, and that of those who held him. For two years he went months upon months with a runny, snotty nose. And his poopy diapers were frequent and toxic. He wasn’t special needs, he wasn’t difficult to parent. He was simply messy and my flesh struggled to embrace him. Him, who was abandoned. Him, who spent three months with fewer cuddles and touches than what he needed. Him, who never sucked enough to develop strong cheek muscles to keep the mouth closed. Him, who learned young to stiffen his body as some sort of protective response.
I’m ashamed of the way I was slow to love. I wish my love was the kind that runs to people in broken realities, and flies open my arms to embrace the dirty and broken, the messy and needy.
The sad, embarrassing bottom line is: I didn’t love him yet.
With my biological children, love happened first. Before the drool, before the poop, before the sleepless nights. Love was being knit in my heart for them long before I ever laid eyes on them. It’s a natural I-helped-create-you kind of love. There’s really nothing quite like it. A love so rooted to your core, a love so wholly complete, so pure. And when this love happens first, the unclean isn’t so gross. And the inconveniences are worth it. And the needs are unquestionably provided for.
But when love doesn’t happen first, it changes everything. The physical, emotional and spiritual conditions of others are more obvious and intrusive when love is absent.
But here’s the beautiful part I want you to know:
It happened. Slowly but surely my heart expanded, my love grew, my grace flourished! And the fruit of this love is sweeter than anything I’ve ever tasted. When loving is learned through the unclean, through the inconveniences, through the needs – it’s so deep and satisfying. It’s the kind of love that’s changing this world. It’s the kind of love that redeems and heals. It’s the kind of love that crosses boundaries. It’s the kind of love we are called to have for all people. It’s a love rich with genuine grace, because you have to learn how to give it. You have to rely on Jesus for it.
It’s a holy love, I’m convinced. And I wish for everyone to know it.
I journeyed through the unclean to discover the holy. This challenges everything I know about holiness, being set apart for the purposes of God. My whole life I thought this meant separating myself from the impurities of the world. But now I know that to be holy is to live different and set apart within the world.
It’s our response of exotic love and unusual grace to all people that sets us apart, that makes us holy.
This is messier, more complicated. There will be grayer lines and fewer answers. It requires the crossing of boundaries, the embracing of filth, the receiving of those you might not love yet.
This is no ordinary life. But we were never called to be ordinary. We were called to follow Jesus, to reveal an alternative reality to the broken, unclean, hurting world.
This is being holy as he is holy.
The hospitable life is worth the struggle and cost. This sweet boy reminds me that I’ll never regret it.
Here, on a return visit to Uganda, he plays at an orphanage….no longer an orphan. He’s ours, loved and adored by each of us. A treasure to our family, a piece of life we can’t image not having. Praise God for his good and perfect gifts!
*Adam Hill’s sermon engaging the ideas of Unclean by Richard Beck helped me understand and articulate my experience of being unwilling to embrace Myles in those early months. Thankful.