Sunday, 3 January 2010

The One in Our Arms

In Uganda we had the honor of meeting and spending a great deal of time with Sister Christine, who runs the orphanage in which Tommy spent the first part of his life. During this time we were able to ask as many questions as we wanted about Tommy's life and habits.

There were plenty of things that we wanted to know that she couldn't answer, because no one keeps track of milestones, first words, or favorites in over-crowded babies homes. However, she was able to tell us about picking Tommy for us.

This is the story as she told it to us:

One day, Isaac called and said, "Sister, please, can you give me a baby." And I responded, "Yes, you can have the one in my arms."

Tommy.


We came to find out that Tommy being in Sister's arms at the time Isaac called was probably no coincidence. It seemed to us that he lived in her arms. When we visited Ibanda the other sisters confirmed our suspicions. Sister Christine may have spoiled him more than a little. Later she told us that she was anxious to get Tommy out of the babies home and to the United States because she loved him and wanted him to have a future. She wanted him to have a support system for the rest of his life, in her words, "someone to have his back."

While the very best orphanages can provide excellent medical care, adequate food, high caregiver to child ratios, and good educations, at some point the children have to leave, and they rarely have formed strong enough bonds with others who can support them if something goes wrong. If they lose a job, get sick, or face a financial setback they have no one to turn to, unless they are able to get married and join a family in that way. Since so few children from the babies home get adopted, Sister has a great burden of picking who will go to families, and who will stay, likely for the rest of their lives, in institutional care. She chooses who will have families to remember their birthday, celebrate the holidays with, and support them in good times and bad, and who will not. I do not envy her burden.

Sister chose Tommy for us because she loved him, but in making that choice, she also had to let him go. I know that it was not easy for her. She knew when she took her vows as a nun that she would never bear children. She knew when she took over the orphanage that she would watch children come in and go out, grow up and move on. I wonder if she knew how that would feel, to love and let go over and over again. I wonder if any of the sisters knew. They have chosen a painful path of raising children for only a brief period of their lives. Knowing that, the wise thing to do would be to hold back. Instead, they love their kids in a self-sacrificing way.

While we were in Uganda I struggled a great deal with Sister's desire to spend time with Tommy. It confused him to go back and forth between us. At one point while we were in Uganda I blogged asking for prayer about a situation that made me uncomfortable. The issue was that Sister wanted to come see Tommy one last time before we left, and I was nervous about what it would do to him. The time we had seen her just before that, Tommy spent days following the visit acting out and grinding his teeth. The look on his face broke our hearts. Having her and then watching her go produced a great deal of anxiety in him. In the end, we did not have a choice. I couldn't say no to Sister. If she wanted to see the boy she lavished so much love and attention on, then worked so hard to give to us, I could not stand in her way.

I had a difficult time during the visit. In retrospect, I am so thankful that Sister came by. For one, that visit marked the first time that Tommy ever chose spending time with me over spending time with Sister. All of us were able to witness the beginning of his transition from her to us. I think it comforted her to see that he loved us, and I know it comforted me. I am thankful that Tommy spent so much time in Sister's arms. If not for that, he might not have had much interest in spending so much time in mine.


7 comments:

Amy Jo said...

Absolutely beautiful! Thank you for sharing!

Jim and April said...

oh what a beautiful story! Thanks for sharing this with us!

sisterhaiti said...

Beautiful and heartbreaking. Hugs...

mary said...

What a gift she was to Tommy and to you.

Gretchen said...

What a tremendous thing to see and go through... Thank you for sharing this heart wrenching story.

Ribbens Family said...

Thanks for sharing another glimpse of Tommy's story. Precious!

asimplereverie said...

what a beautiful and insightful story!