Monday, May 13, 2013

Ashley or Africa?

Ashley's big day is tomorrow.  She will be fifteen.  She is lovely and poised and kind and wonderful and I'm excited to celebrate all that she is tomorrow.  Today, however, we'd like to take a look back at the kid Ashley used to be.  The kid who didn't belong to anyone.  The kid who came out of a really hard place to become someone who longs to help those still stuck in hard places.

Ashley's story is one of absolute neglect.  She was taken from her family because no one was taking care of her.  She was passed from home to home having multiple foster placements before landing in a children's home.  She was ten.  It was Christmas-time.  She was alone.  That's when we showed up.

If only at this point I could tell you a story of walking in, throwing my arms around her and whisking her off to a life of love and family and absolute harmony.  I could, but it wouldn't be true.  I do have a story to tell, it just doesn't go like that.

We spent five days with Ashley.  She was placed nine hours away from us, so we set off during Christmas break to meet her and get to know her.  Logistically, this was not ideal.  Spending Christmas day in a hotel is not fun.  Being stuck in one room with a hard-to-handle kid is not fun.  A hotel swimming pool with a kid who can't swim but thinks she can is not fun.  Spending five days trying not to catch lice is not fun.

There are so many things things about that week that we can laugh about now, but at the time they did not seem funny.  Just ask Hannah.  Not funny at all.  All these things serve as a reminder that these kids stuck in the system do not have to continue down the path they are walking.  Their hearts can change.  If God wouldn't have stepped in and altered her path, Ashley might never have known who she truly is.  

Let's take Christmas morning for example.  This was day five and our final day with her before we drove home and they flew her to us and moved her in.   We went to IHOP for breakfast (Christmas morning in a hotel gives very limited options).  While waiting for our food to arrive, something made Ashley mad.  I don't even remember what set her off, but at that moment she took her arms and swept everything from the table onto the ground.

Let's stop here for just a moment.  This experience (and several others) has made me a whole lot less judgmental about poorly behaved children in public places.  We never can tell what is really going on, so I'm just going to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and pray that others do the same for me.

I sat there looking at the clean table and the littered floor.  I may have bartered with God for a moment.  I may have told him I would go to Africa if I didn't have to raise this one sitting across from me right now.  I may have. 

The waitress was less than enthusiastic about Ashley's little display.  I apologized profusely, but that didn't really seem to help.  That episode taught me something very important about the life I was embarking on:  Sometimes it was going to be isolating.   After all, no one who witnessed all that knew one thing about what our family was going through.  Not one of them understood what Ashley's life was like or why her behavior looked like that.

These days Ashley isn't the one shoving our place settings onto the floor.  Another has taken her place.  Do we still sometimes find ourselves being stared at in public places because someone is pitching a fit?  Yes.  Does it still bother us.  No.  Just kidding.  Of course it does!  But we have a bigger picture in mind.  Today's fit-thrower will one day learn self-control.  She will one day consider others.  She will one day know what it's like to be on the other side, the side of watching the fit rather than pitching it.  One day it will be her helping us pick silverware off the floor while apologizing to the waitress.  Just like Ashley does now.

The progress Ashley has made is nothing short of a miracle.  From meanness to kindness, from selfishness to serving, it's been an amazing adventure.  I'm so thankful I didn't hightail it to Africa!  I wouldn't have wanted to miss this for the world!

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