It is an incontrovertible fact to me that if we are but clear-eyed enough to see it, we can watch the hand of God at work everywhere along the course of our lives. Tenderly caressing, ceaselessly guiding, carefully shielding, gently pulling — he has not left us unattended for a moment.
He does much more than watch and accompany. To think of his role in our lives as that of a loving spectator is to say that a good mother only yearns over her infant crying in his crib, and doesn’t fly to clasp him in her arms.
When I was a girl with a child’s shining faith, I saw God’s hand in mine as plainly as I did my pretty mother’s. Later, as the scales of life grew over my eyes, this clarity of vision mostly left me. But (and how thankful I am for this!) there have been three occasions when a light broke upon me and I was granted a brief reprieve from my tragic blindness of spirit. The most beautiful one happened a few days after I met my youngest daughter.
I went to China to adopt a little toddler girl after almost two years of anxious waiting. Two years is a long time, especially when they are filled with great uncertainty. Are we doing the right thing? Are we going to find challenges that we can’t easily overcome? Are there better parents out there for this child than us?
These questions rolled around and around in my head for all the long months I spent waiting to hear from the agency. Finally the call came and off I went to China, without my husband, as he had to stay home to work and to care for our other children.
I met our daughter on my third day in China when I, along with 12 couples in our adoption group, went to a social welfare institute in Chongqing. We joined a milling confusion of perhaps 50 foreign couples waiting to collect their long-hoped-for children.
There was a room with a glass wall along the back and we all pressed our faces against it. That room had plastic gym mats on the floor and on the mats were dozens of babies and toddlers, all in either pink or green rompers. Our daughters and sons, on the other side of the glass. Imagine our exultation!
One by one they called our names and a child was handed out to a weeping mother and a proud father, or in my case, just a joyful woman.
At first my new daughter was calm and quiet. She seemed puzzled by me and looked at me thoughtfully when I tried to make her smile. She endured a warm bath, perhaps her first, with patience. She put up with my bumbling attempts to warm her bottle to just under boiling but not scalding, as I’d been told she was used to.
She calmly let me hold her and hug her and caress her and hand her toys, which she promptly dropped, not knowing what a toy was. She suffered me to dandle her in front of my laptop computer so her father could exult over her chubby cheeks and rosebud mouth.
Finally, it was all too much for a little girl who had spent all her short life lying virtually unattended in a hard wooden crib. On our second day together, she started to cry.
She cried endlessly, disconsolately. She woefully but decidedly rejected all my timid advances and sobbed through her bottle. She wept and shook and rocked, and cried even in her sleep. All that night I heard her little hiccups of leaden despair and watched tiny teardrops gather at the corner of her tightly shut eyes.
This went on the next day, all day. By nightfall I was as grief-stricken as she was. Me, a mother many times over, who had delighted in all my babies with a cheerfulness that had never faltered, and whose babies had delighted in her. Me, a woman who could change an infant with one hand while shoveling food into a squirming toddler with another, and all three of us laughing uproariously.
I could not console her. What if she couldn’t love me? What if I couldn’t love her? That night I tasted perfect misery.
Sometime during that long night I began to pray. Mentally I threw myself at the feet of Our Lady and begged her to help me. She, the best of mothers, the acme of tenderness, had to help me be a proper mother to my new little one, to teach me to love her patiently, calmly, at a distance, for as long as it took.
I begged her to take away my fears that my daughter would not learn to love me. With every hour I felt more hopeless, and it was just past dawn when I gave up. I rose and dressed, and put my sad daughter in the stroller for a long walk.
We were then in Shamian Island, in Guangzhou, near the American consulate. Shamian is a former foreign concession, an oasis of elaborate Western style buildings and wide streets; safe and quiet, even at dawn.
Just a couple of blocks from the hotel I turned the corner and to my shocked surprise found myself facing a lovely little church. The sign proclaimed: Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church. And the 6 a.m. Mass was just beginning.
I had not been able to find a church the whole time I had been in China. I ached for the Mass. And there it was, impossibly, magically, after my long dark night.
The little church was almost full of elderly Chinese men and women. I entered a pew with my little girl and every face turned to us. Shining faces, beaming, loving. The priest bowed to me, welcomed me. He began the familiar-in-any-language Mass, which I could follow perfectly and my heart, which only a few minutes before was heavy with gloom, started to dance within me.
When the priest lifted the host it was as though he was pulling every black thought and hopeless feeling out of me and flinging it to the skies, to be swallowed by Love himself.
After Mass the elderly men and women gathered around me, saying sweet things I couldn’t understand, patting me and the baby with soft hands, bowing and bobbing. The priest blessed my daughter elaborately, with wide movements and incomprehensible words. He blessed me, too. I cried again, this time with gladness.
I remembered then what my priest at home told me when I went to him with my fears and doubts during the long wait for my daughter. He said, “You will bring her home and you will baptize her. You will give her to him. He will take care of everything. His hand will be upon you and you will not be afraid.”
He was right. If God had whispered in my heart, and in my husband’s heart, the fervent desire to adopt this pretty baby, then God would provide the grace we needed to be her good and patient parents. And when I was overcome with worry and doubt, his saving hand would lead me out of myself and to him, as he had led me from the dark and despairing night to the bright dawn of the Mass.
From that moment on I was filled with calm certainty and optimism. I was the daughter of God, and no mere spectator God but a Father who runs to the rescue of his stumbling child. My heart was buoyant with hope and I knew I could wait calmly for as long as it took for my little girl to learn to love me. When I brought her home we christened her Lourdes, in thanksgiving for that miracle of a little church, and of a Mass at dawn, just when it was most needed.
It was only a few months later that God granted my husband and I a perfect moment with her. She was lying between us in bed, almost asleep. She reached out to me and patted my arm. “Mamá” she said softly and confidently. Then she patted her father’s arm. “Papá.” She smiled contentedly and drifted off to sleep, secure, loved, loving. She was ours, and we were hers, and all three of us were his.
I wonder sometimes how many instances of God’s loving providence pass unnoticed in the course of our lives? How many times have I chalked up some splendid gift from my Father as coincidence, or the work of my own cleverness, or sheer dumb luck?
I suppose that is one of the things that will amaze us when and if we go to heaven. We will see how he saved us here by sending us a friend to give us good advice, or there by making incontrovertibly clear to us that our enemy was just a bumbling human being like ourselves.
And we will know, finally, how the graces that flowed and gushed from the altar at each and every Mass that he called us to attend bore us up, and carried us along in a glad torrent, right to his very throne.