When our Chinese daughter blows out the pink-striped candles on her 4th birthday cake, the tendril of smoke curls up from the swirl of homemade lemon cheesecake, and I look around our backyard farm table at three Middle Eastern girls and a boy, born into the horror of Aleppo, Syria. Sham and Rose and Rama and Mohammad.
And I turn and look right into the whites of the eyes of the 3 African boys crowded in beside them, 11 year old Raphael with the cheekiness of his little brother, Mohammed, slung on his hip, and little Usman’s head peeking over the table, the kid devouring a Crispy Crunch chocolate bar, and there they all are:
a trinity of future men born into a dusty refugee camp in Osire, Namibia, — and crowded in amidst all of them, our blue-eyed kids of Dutch immigrants, all with Hebrew names, Malakai, Levi and Joshua downing a platter of burgers, our girls, Hope and Shalom, carrying out the stacks of white Corelle plates for cake — and that is the moment that the smoke clears and there it is, clear as day — what it means for all of our humanity to find family.
This, right here, is what it is for humanity to simply come home.
It’s my daughter settled on my lap, her silky black hair pulled back into pig-tails, her Asian brown eyes lit by the flicking candle light, and I am her mother but I wasn’t there when her first pulsing cord was cut, I wasn’t in the room when she first filled her lungs with the air of this earth and howled for courage to keep breathing here — I was more than 10,000 kilometres away, round the curvature of the world, stringing up wet Levi jeans on a clothesline, worn, wooden clothes lines stuck between my teeth.Sometimes you aren’t there when a child is born into this world — but that child was born in your heart long before you can ever remember.
Sometimes you belong to each other simply because you long to be with each other.
I may not have been there the muggy late summer day when she was born and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t wish I knew where her first mother is, but this I know:
Losses can still win love, because His ways never lose.
I may not have there the day my daughter was born, but she is tethered to the essence of me, like an unbreakable umbilical cord that defies the sharp, serrated edge of anything.
She may not be bone of my bone or flesh of my flesh — but she is the dream of my dreams and the air of my prayers.
We belong to each like stars belong to the sky. When she laughs happy when you walk in the door, you should see how she shimmers — you can’t take your eyes off her and your heart cosmically splits like some kind of supernova of its own, and I have felt this in the wake of her laugh. I memorize her when she falls asleep in my arms, like she’s the refrain my heartbeat has finally found.
I tuck a strand behind her ear. How is she here? How are we all here together, her and I and this family of cousins and aunts and uncles and our two refugee-newcomer families who are now family?
Why does deep joy make the heart deeply ache? (Is it because joy and ache are two arteries of the same heart — and if we’re deeply living, we feel deep joy and deep ache with each beat?)
She grins up at me, crinkles her nose, reaches up her hand and claps my cheek, like she is celebrating now and us and the home we all make for each other again and again, always coming home to being wanted.
And I nod, blink back this aching joy, look around a backyard farm table at a family of immigrants and refugees ready to feast on the grace of now and cake:We are family not because we bear the same last name — but because we bear the image of the same God.
They all look like mirrors of glory to me, all around the table. I can’t take my eyes off them, Middle Eastern, African, Asian, European-descended North Americans. And what if —
What if we were a society that wasn’t so profoundly image conscious — and more profoundly conscious of the image of God in each other?
What if we were less devoted in projecting a certain image and were more devoted to protecting the image of God in each other?
What if we weren’t a people of image makers — and were more about seeing the Image of our Maker in people?
What if we worked less to present an image — and were more present to the image of God in each other?
Under the welcoming limbs of the backyard’s pine trees, this motley gathering of family from around the globe who’ve found home with each other, we fete a little girl born in China with birthday song and cake and she smiles shy and she’s given me this:We are family not because we share the same nationality, but because we all share in the hospitality of God.
And family isn’t about sharing the same birth land — but about all being made out of the same dust of the earth, all moved to life by the warm breath of God.
I pass out the last of the cake to my mama-sisters from Aleppo, Syria and Osire, Namibia, and my own glorious white-haired mama and I thank God for one blazing brave China mama somewhere who not only chose life but selflessly chose to place that small life where a life of hope could find her.
And we are a whole world of people living parallel lives under the same sky, walking the same earth, touching the shores of the same seas, the same stars over all of our heads every night — and our parallel lives cross because of the Cross and we’re made to reflected glory enfolding into the strength of grace.
And this planet is our one raft in the cosmos, and we don’t push each other out of the raft, we don’t puncture one end of the raft and think we won’t all start to sink, we don’t hoard all the supplies at the other end of the raft and think that won’t be the death of us all in one way or other, but we bail for each other, we make room for each other, we hold on to each other, and we become cruciform Love for each other.If you never let anyone different belong to you, your heart will never get to be what it longs for: the same as Love Himself.
The two Mohammads from different parts of the world run out by our twilight-still corn fields, their laughter rising across a country sky , and the little girl in my lap, our daughter born round the world, she let’s her laughter join theirs and the joining of our lives makes a home and I feel it, what we can be in this home:
We are all warming flames of glory that never blow out — we are all warming candles that never lose by lending more light, but only light more of the world.
And she reaches across the backyard farm table and, one by one, places the birthday candles into my open hand.
You find yourself at a crossroads every day — and what you need to know is the way to abundance.
How do you find the way that lets you become what you hope to be?
How do you know the way forward that lets you heal, that lets you flourish, the way that takes your brokenness — and makes wholeness?
How can you afford to take any other way?