On this first day of March, I was thinking about the saying and also reminded of our visit to the Lion Park during our adoption trip to Ethiopia six months ago. I have not blogged about the events of each day of the trip yet, and it may take me years to do it. I'm still processing so much of it in my mind. Yesterday we did a presentation about our trip to our Bible Fellowship class at church, and my husband included some photos from this particular day, which brought to mind some wonderful memories.
We were so blessed to be able to spend over a week as a family in Addis Ababa, seeing the sights and absorbing the culture with our new son. It was an unforgettable, set-apart, God-ordained time. Simply amazing. We saw so many things that we may never see again, exhibits and places introducing us to the fascinating country of Ethiopia, but I have to say... my focus was on him. Mintesinot Alemu. Our son. My son. I was watching him act silly with his new brother and sister and look adoringly at his new Dad. I was hugging him when I had the opportunity and touching his head. Watching him jump and dance and sing. Listening to him speak his wonderful language. Hearing him call me "Mommy." I was, and continue to be, in awe of this precious child who has been gifted by God in so many ways... so resilient, so funny. He is an example of a child whose heart has been guarded... protected by God's loving hand. He has been through unspeakably difficult things, but has such joy. Oh how I love him, and I'm so glad he's ours.
When I think back to our time in Addis, I feel afresh the excitement of the "newness" of it all, but I love reflecting on it from the comfortable familiarity of today. It was all still so new that day, the day we visited the Lion Park. Being that close to lions was definitely a new experience for our family! You can stand literally a couple of feet from from them. There are lions, bars, chain link, then you. Right there. Lions. Staring you in the face. I remember standing there and thinking, "I can't believe I'm this close to a lion." Several Bible verses about lions ran through my mind that day. At one point, we were watching one, and it roared an ear-splitting roar. I could actually smell its breath! Not many people get close enough to a lion to smell its breath and walk away from the experience! I thought of Daniel and David. I imagined how the early Christians must have felt as they were forced to come face to face with lions. I remembered our reading of David Livingstone's encounter with a lion and thought of it with a fresh perspective. It was spine-tingling enough with two layers of fence between us! Some of the lions would lay close to the bars and you could reach their manes, which, to my surprise, some people would give a tug. It would never occur to me to pull a lion's mane! It was a very interesting day, indeed.
During our visit, we toured the circle of cages, pausing to take some pictures, watching them eat and sharing some of the thoughts I mentioned above. All the while, I was fixed on our new son, wondering what was going through his mind. At this point, having only known his American family for two days or so, and knowing very little English, he wasn't able to tell us what he was thinking. His eyes and facial expressions spoke volumes to me, though. At one point we paused for this picture:
It was a great shot, two lions together (as close as I'll ever put my children to them!) and a perfect picture spot. Our new son. Our new family. New siblings. New parents of three. A new country. A new experience. A new identity. A new season.
I wish I could post another photo that we received that week, but I won't. It's Minte's to share someday. But I will describe it to you. Keep the above picture in your mind's eye, only remove Bethany and Kyle. Imagine Minte 4 or 5 years younger, with a missing front tooth. Envision a handsome, tall Ethiopian man kneeling down next to him with his arm around him. The layer of chain link fence is gone, and only the bars are there. Picture the same lion in the background, in that same position. A smiling boy with his smiling father, spending a sunny afternoon at the Lion Park together. That's the photo we received, of Minte and his Ethiopian father kneeling in what could have been that exact spot a few years ago.
What was so new to us that week was actually familiar territory to him. Of course, experiencing it with us was new, but he'd been there before, maybe even multiple times. Everything on this side of it, now that we've been home, has been new territory for him, but familiar to us. The new and the familiar, woven together on a daily basis. The Master Weaver, expertly weaving a beautiful story out of broken threads.
Being united with your newly adopted child can "come in like a lion." There's a flurry of activity, a whirlwind of new emotions, and a beautiful new definition of "family" brings with it a new season. Some of it is unsettling, much of it is foreign, in its own way it's all wonderful, though at times it will blow your hair back! You'll stand closer to situations and emotions than you ever thought you would. You'll stare things in the face you'd have never thought you'd dare to. You'll simultaneously stand with one foot rooted in the familiar and one foot planted in the new. But you'll love more fiercely than any lion's roar.