Three Sixteen

Three sixteen.

If you grew up in the church (and maybe even if you didn’t), there’s a good chance those numbers bring to mind the best-known verse in the Bible, the Gospel in a nutshell.

Here’s John 3:16, from The Message:

This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.

Love. That’s what this verse is about. Love.

Emmeline is asleep in the carrier as I type this, but I’m thinking about another little girl who once snuggled against my chest.

She’s been on my mind a lot this week.

I don’t want to make more of this than I should. My life is beautiful and full. What was once a deep wound, an intense grief, has scabbed over now, leaving only memories, echoes of pain.

I don’t need to dwell on the past. I could choose to keep my thoughts firmly in the present, to turn them away from the girl who celebrated her ninth birthday on Wednesday.

Even as I type those words, however, I question if they’re true.

She was born on March 16th. Three sixteen.

We brought her home to a house decorated for her arrival, a surprise from loving extended family eager to welcome her.

On the door to the nursery, my sister had hung a sign. “You are so LOVED!” it proclaimed in bold, colorful letters. And there, in tiny black numbers in the corner, a date–three sixteen–pointing to the One who loves her most.

How do you love somebody you don’t know?

I’ve thought about this off and on throughout the years. I remember the baby I called my own–her smile, her cry, her chubby cheeks–but I know nothing of the girl she is today, nothing of the teenager or the woman she will become. What makes her laugh? Who are her friends? What does she like to do in her free time?

I don’t know.

This isn’t meant to elicit sympathy; given the circumstances, I truly believe it’s healthiest for everyone that there is no contact.

Still, I can’t help but wonder: is it possible–really possible–to love somebody who is a stranger to you?

Looking back now, with the added perspective of time and distance, I can see why God might have allowed things to happen the way they did. I can see how our involvement might have meant she ultimately landed in a home that was ready to receive her.

I hesitate to write those words down, to say them aloud, to even think them. I don’t want to admit their truth.

A part of that is simple, ugly pride, an unwillingness to face the fact that our family might not have been what she needed. But there’s more to it than that.

For years, I wrestled with anger and hurt, betrayal and grief, trying to make sense of it all. I had so many questions, questions that didn’t seem to have good answers. The entire situation felt senseless and cruel.

When we said goodbye to that sweet baby girl, there were some who told me that God must be working, that He certainly had a plan. They said it with the best of intentions, out of a desire to comfort and console, but, in my grief, it felt like they were scolding me, telling me to stop questioning, to stop hurting.

To say now that I can, perhaps, begin to make some sense of it all feels almost like a betrayal of the woman I was back then. It’s as though I’m dismissing her sorrow, as though I’m invalidating the questions and the doubts she carried, as though I’m joining the ranks of people meeting her pain with a scolding finger and an admonition to trust.

In the immediate aftermath of our summer with her, I experienced a deep, nearly crippling grief. At the time, I remember thinking that I both wanted and didn’t want the pain to end. I didn’t want to be stuck in sorrow, unable to move forward, but at the same time, I was afraid of the healing process, afraid that, as what I felt became less acute, it would mean I was forgetting, it would mean I no longer cared.

If I were to talk to that woman I was eight and a half years ago, I think I would tell her it’s ok–even good–to doubt, to question, to cry, to rage against the things that seem cruel and senseless and unjust in this world. I would say that it’s possible to trust and to wrestle at the same time. I would encourage her to give herself space and grace, and I would reassure her that the love she had was–is–real and that, though it would certainly change with time and distance, it would persist. That healing is not the same as forgetting.

Mostly, though, I think I would hold her hand. I would give her a hug. And I would let her cry.

I don’t know, truly, how to love well from a distance, how to love somebody who might not even know I exist. I don’t know what that looks like, in practice, other than to say a prayer every time her name enters my thoughts.

But maybe this is a part of it: if I knew that the path we walked together ultimately ended for her good, and if I were given the choice to do it all again, I think–I hope–I would say yes.

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