I remember after I lost Adama, I didn't believe my heart would ever be able to love another child like I loved her. After her death, she had so much power over me. She invaded my sleep, her memory would consume my days. She owned me. Every part of me.
The aching to hold her and to remember her caused me to sit for hours in one place...day in and day out.
Most people watched me and called my inability to face the day "depression"... But for me I was just trying to remember...otherwise yes... depression would take me and break me... piece by piece.
I was desperately trying to hold on to the visual memory of her... the timid smile, the way she would hold her water bottle, the way she would eat cheerios-her slobber all over her fingers.. cheerios stuck to her like glue. I wanted to feel her weight in my arms... I wanted to kneel down and put her shoes on her feet just one more time...
As time went on... I would try to visualize what she might look like had she turned 6.... would she have played piano or practiced ballet, if she'd survived? What would our family look like if she were in the photographs today? What did we really lose when we lost her? Surely without her presence the world doesn't spin quite the same. How could it? After all, my world has never been the same since she left...
I have to believe she was born for a purpose she never got the chance to embrace. Children are not just born to die... her loss was on me... just like the thousands of other children who are snuffed out... death due to starvation, mosquito bites, diarrhea, etc- that isn't supposed to happen. It's our inaction and inability to take a stand for humanity that causes shit like that to go down. THAT is on us. She was meant to be here... she was MEANT to live out her purpose.
But she didn't. She didn't because I made a mistake.
But that's another story for another day.
After she died, we adopted again, but I was hell bent on older children... I couldn't bear the thought of another baby girl. I wanted nothing to do with "replacing her". I felt like I needed to mourn her for the rest of my life in order to keep remembering her. You see we had very few happy memories together. She was always sick, or crying, or being used as a pathetic ransom.... so I continued living in the few memories I did have... for years after she was gone.
Then one day.... I found out I had an elastic heart. It wasn't as broken as I thought... it wasn't dead... it still had breath... It still had the ability to stretch and absorb what would come next....
Willa was found in a community during one of our team feeding programs. I came across her strapped to the back of an overly pregnant woman. Her hair was patchy and orange. She was severely malnourished. I couldn't take my eyes off her. She had a hollow cry and even emptier eyes. The fact that she looked so much like Adama was something I tried hard to ignore. I focused on the reality. This little one would be dead within weeks if we didn't step in..... and I couldn't handle one more loss to be because I didn't move quick enough... We found out the woman caring for her was a community member trying her best to keep her alive but barely able to care of herself. Willa's mama had died in childbirth and the father had left her there to go up country for work.
So long story short. Willa was admitted to the center. For two years she was loved on by the aunties and nursed back to health by some of the country's best. Eventually her father also died and Willa was considered a double orphan. During those two years I desperately tried to find her a family. When I would visit the orphanage I would avoid her like the plague. Adama would come rushing back to me like a roaring river anytime I stayed in Willa's presence for long. I was starting to finally process through the cycle of grief, but Willa.. she took me 10 steps back and I felt it starting all over again. So I stayed away from her... snapping pictures from afar.... and praying someone would love her and take her home one day.
One January, Jason traveled with a team to Sierra Leone. One afternoon he called me, barely able to talk. Through tears he told me about a "little baby girl".... that he was spending lots of time with. He carried on about how he had been tucking her in for her naps and at bedtime.... that she stuck to him like glue.... and that he felt like he was supposed to be her dad. I remember rolling my eyes and thinking "Oh no here we go again." We had already adopted 4 times. We had decided we were done... WHAT ON EARTH was he doing? He texted over a photograph and when I saw her my heart dropped. It was Willa. The child I was afraid of. The little one I had secretly longed for from afar but was too broken to connect to. I told Jason to let me think on it... that I needed to really pray about this... I just wasn't sure my heart could do this.
I wasn't sure I could love her.
Within the next 24 hours I got my hands on a copy of Willa's birth certificate and discovered something that would rock my entire world and would prove to me once again... that God exists and makes himself known in the smallest details.
Willa's certificate showed her birthday as the exact same time frame Adama had passed away. During the same period Willa was entering the world and losing her mother - on the other side of town... Adama was being buried, and I would be left without her.
When I processed this my heart almost stopped. Everything slowed. It finally made sense and I understood why I couldn't find Willa a family. She was never placed with anyone else because she was always meant to be mine.
God knew. He knew the darkness in the world would not only take Adama, but would also take Willa's mama... and in his way of restoring all things... in his way of creating beauty from ash.... he allowed our worlds to collide.
I won't say it was easy for me moving forward. After Willa came home there were seasons I would grieve Adama with an even stronger intensity. But slowly I have come to a place of reconciliation. I have come to discover that I was the one who built walls around my heart. I was the one who allowed myself to believe I had a heart that was left in pieces. But our hearts are not meant for breaking....
Willa has taught me that our hearts may be worn and stretched, tattered and aching.... but finding and coming to love her has taught me that our hearts eventually beat again. In time, they do what they are meant to do.... in spite of loss, they do love again. In spite of pain, they do continue on.
So today, I thank God for Willa.
Today, I thank God for my elastic heart.