In the months that followed our return from China, instead of hope I felt hopeless. While I took pleasure in watching how well Jenna bonded with my wife Kelly and our three biological children, it’s something I had to do from a distance. Jenna would never allow me to get close…physically or emotionally. Whenever I would get close, she would run. I tried everything, but nothing worked. My overtures were met with rejection. Her eyes told the story…they always have. Even in the first pictures we received from the orphanage they told a story of sadness and abandonment…even at an age too young to know…she knew…something wasn’t right…it wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. Those eyes continued to tell the story back in America. They were always moving, always perceiving. She picked up on any nuance or change in routine…especially that of Kelly. She could pick up on the slightest indication that Kelly might be leaving to run errands or whatever the moment needed. I’ve never been around a child with such a deep level of perception. I often wonder if this is seeded in her fear of being abandoned again. Either way it was clear that the thought of being left with me was equated to abandonment. On one occasion, Kelly left and Jenna would not stop freaking out! I basically followed her around for what seemed like hours (probably more like 30 minutes) as she went inside and out screaming “mama, mama, mama”. At one point she was literally yelling into the field behind our house like Kelly had just decided to take a walk in the meadow.
Not only did those eyes have a keen “eye” on Kelly…they had a keen eye on me! Every time I walked into the room she would immediately look to see who could save her. She would sometimes sit on the counter while Kelly was fixing supper. If I came in the kitchen she would scoot as close to Kelly possible in the event I tried to get close. Every move she made was like a dagger in my heart…a heart that had so much love for her. All I wanted was to wrap my arms around her and tell her how much her daddy loved her.
And then one day it happened...instead of eyes of fear she had the eyes of realization. It’s a moment I will cherish the rest of my life. It’s the moment I’ll cry about on her wedding day. I was walking home from the gym (just a few blocks from our house). As I approached our house I see that Kelly and Jenna are playing in the front yard. As Jenna turns to see who mommy is greeting I brace my heart for yet another rejection. Instead…her eyes tell a different story. They were eyes that realized I wasn’t going anywhere…that I was always there…that my overtures for her love would never end. And with that realization she ran…and for the first time it wasn’t away from me…it was too me. With total abandonment she lifted both arms up in the air and jumped into my arms. I was too shocked to cry but I cherished the full wrap-around kind of hug that I was receiving. It only lasted a few moments but they were moments I’ll never forget. So just as train T803 arrived in Hong Kong carrying a new heart in me, Jenna arrived in my arms carrying a new heart of her own. A heart that knew she had a forever daddy.
As I embraced the significance of that hug in the days that followed I once again start to see the picture…the picture of God’s love. It’s an enduring love that never ends or gives up on me. Despite my eyes turning away from Him, despite me running from Him, despite me rejecting His overtures of love for me, He never stops pursuing me. He doesn’t care that I’ve rejected him over and over again in my sin…He is constantly pursuing my heart. As I press into what God’s teaching me I realize the real lesson is this…just like I would no more reject Jenna when she finally ran to me would Jesus reject me when I finally run to Him! In fact, it’s like the prodigal son’s father in Luke 15…He runs to me with open arms! And with total abandonment I raise my arms to be held and accepted by my Father…and He cherishes the embrace.
While Jenna still prefers “mommy,” our relationship has grown and flourished. Has it been perfect? No, but neither is my relationship with my heavenly Father. Despite those imperfections she has grown to know that my love for her will never end. She recently said in her broken English, “Daddy, you my daddy fo-ever”…And so I am Jenna, and so is He.
This whole experience has reminded of the verse in I Corinthians 13 which talks about faith, hope, and love. My faith called me to the journey of adoption, hope helped me endure its hardships, but ultimately it was love that won the day.
I love you, Jenna Jean Preston!