(For context, Aaliya is our newly adopted daughter, home from India for just over two months. She is a doll; we are smitten with her; God is too good.)
One of the most tender things Aaliya does is to smush her face against mine as tightly as possible. It happens nightly before bed, or when staking her position between me and whoever she perceives I’m focusing too much on. She’s done this since our fourth day together (as seen above at our hotel pool in Delhi). Whenever we’re laying down, her favorite position is to be spread face down across the top of me, pressed firmly into one another, from her squishy face down to her stubby toes. It literally feels like she’s trying to seal our attachment day after day. As if she's wanting to climb beyond my skin somehow and unite us at a primal level. I tear-up nearly every time, wanting to climb with her into these gorgeous places of connection and unity, wanting her to know in her deep that she is secure in the love of our family, and that we aren’t going anywhere. I also tear-up partly in grief, knowing at some point she will have to face desperate unknowns and the trauma of being separated from her birth parents. She’ll have to face a hard reality that she didn’t come from my body, that we never shared an umbilical cord.
(Someone I share a bed with said what I'm about to share may not the most convincing metaphor; I digress.) Yesterday at one point when Aaliya's torso was smushed against my face, I was completely sidetracked by her belly-buttom. Y’all, I think her naval has a sun stamped into it. Maybe I’m exaggerating, or reading into it to appease my reconciliations of her birth story, or our birth story with her, but do you not see the distinct circle with beams fanning out of that precious outie!?
I immediately googled how innies and outies are formed and any correlations between our belly-buttons and birth stories. (For adoptive parents, learning even the slightest thing about your kid’s birth, or birth parents, or history feels like discovering twelve tons of gold.) Was it cut-off neatly by a midwife, or relative, in a hospital or maybe a slum? Was it a fast and wanted labor, or one of resentment and shame? Was her birthmom healthy or ill, rich or poor...? Unfortunately, no such reality can be read through the design a belly-button. But, I do believe God fearfully and wonderfully made every inch of my daughter, including that ridiculously cute little naval. And my hope is that someday, it will serve as another small proof to cling to when her questions about his goodness become big and hard -- that it will be seen as a mark of intentionality, noting that since conception, God was with her, at work in her, stamping light over the core of her being and claiming brightness over a dark hour.
In many ways, the release of Stretch Marks I Wasn’t Expecting feels like a birth. It feels raw and alive, sacred and fragile. And I’m trying to remember that like Aaliya’s belly-button (have I seriously lost it??), God has stamped every inch of its story, and my story, from conception to death, with his goodness and good purposes. Nothing he does is an accident; no decision, or incision, or instant of eternity goes by without signatures of his presence. Rarely do we see the entire script, but I think if we search with openness today (or simply ask for a torso in our face), glimpses of his artistry might just show-up in the most unexpected of places.
May your light shine bright, precious Aaliya, beaming the magical and mysterious light of the Son who gives life.
And “Stretch Marks I Wasn’t Expecting”, may your light shine bright, too, beaming the magical and mysterious light of the Son who gives life.