It was just a simple sign.
And it wasn't like it showed up without warning. We'd ordered it and paid for it and so I definitely knew it was coming. But I didn't anticipate all the emotions that would be associated with its installation.
I walked all the way out to the gate just to see it and, when I got there, I noticed it was taller than I'd expected. It also looked so professional and official and the thought occurred to me that I should be happy about that. But all I felt welling up in me as I stood there staring at that logo-ed rectangle, standing proudly on two spindly legs, was intense and overwhelming sadness.
Because in just a little while our school kids would return home from a day full of classes and as the truck passed through the gate, the children would see the sign the same way I was seeing it. The sun would have dipped a bit lower in the sky by then but the truth would be still be plain, for all to see.
They'd left "home"that morning but now they'd be returning to the reality that they live in a children's home.
Even typing that hits me in the gut. I hate it for them even though I love it that we get to do life with them. I hate that there's now a sign telling the world this property isn't just a home with children but is rather a home for children. Isn't it interesting how such a small difference can make a thing so totally different?
Anyway, I had myself a tiny cry and then felt a little better. It is what it is and the sign is a government requirement which means it's a small price to pay for the opportunity to love these kids every day. I moved on with the afternoon and almost forgot the sign. Until, that is, Robbie pulled in through the gate with the first kids home from school for the day.
A short time after they arrived, I was walking to the house with Namwan when she threw a hand in the direction of the sign. "I don't like it," she said. "It says we are children somebody threw away."
Obviously that's not what the sign actually says but it was clear we were having the same response to that silly piece of metal now taunting us from the gate. Both of us were probably being a bit irrational but I'm learning it's better to address what I'm experiencing than it is to pretend I'm not experiencing it. And as I learn that, it helps me to be able to help them.
So we talked as we walked. We both acknowledged that none of the children here have been thrown away. Namwan has parents who love her. Her cousins, who also live with us, have parents who love them. Her best friends here have family members who love in all the ways they know how. Nobody has been thrown away. We decided that a better way to look at it was that the kids here have all been hand-chosen by God to know a breadth and depth of love that so many across the globe cannot even imagine. Our kids have more than one family where some people haven't got a single person who cares for them.
Knowing love is a gift. Showing love is a choice. Giving love is the blessing of a lifetime.
Those of us who have been given much will have much expected of us. And that's as it should be. Sometimes responsibility is exactly the thing that saves us.
Last week Abi gave me the sweetest birthday gift by printing off small photos of all 33 kids (which includes my 8 American "babies") plus the 3 Thai children who lived here for a short time before returning home. She laminated them all together so I have 36 beautiful faces on one sheet and it's perfect for prayer walking.
I've kept it close by for almost a week now and every single time I look down at it, I realize how much love God has multiplied within me. These kids make me weak (in all the best ways) and I can't imagine how sad I'd be if I had refused to come to Thailand, preferring instead to live out my quiet life on my favorite mountain. If I'd done that, and then later found myself face to face with Jesus as He showed me what He'd planned to give me but that I'd turned away, the reality of my loss would be crushing. Sure, maybe this wasn't my only possible path leading toward eternity, but I can't imagine it wasn't the best and cutest and huggiest.
I'd have missed out on All.These.Kids.
I have renewed determination in the wake of all these good requirements (please don't misunderstand me to say we're being asked to do bad things. we're not. everyone is working together to make sure the kids are safe and cared for!) but that carry with them the risk of losing that feeling of "home". And that determination is to make sure these kids know they are the most loved children on the planet.
We want them to encounter God as the ultimate lover of JOY. We want them to know He's not a long-faced, sour ruler ready to throw down judgment but that, instead, He's the literal definition of love and I imagine His smile is like nothing we've ever experienced. I want them to know He drew us across an ocean so we could do life together with them because He knew we needed each other to make it.
We're going to grab all the light, happy moments we can and mingle them with reverence and honor to the One who is moving heaven and earth to keep this little ministry going. And He's not just doing it for the kids, or the staff that's getting a chance to know Him, or for the villagers, or the shopkeepers near to our little church plant.
He's also doing it for the pitiful family who didn't even recognize they were hanging by a thread before He called them here.
Some signs stand at the gate announcing themselves. Others can only be seen when you're determined to see them.
We need eyes that want to see what's otherwise not visible. I'm choosing to see what can't yet be seen, but which can most definitely be experienced.