It is difficult for me to describe in words the way I feel about the children here at the orphanage. It is very easy to say that you love someone or something, but the simple word “love” isn’t necessarily the most effective word. There are so many different kinds of love and ways to love that I am not sure how to communicate the exact kind of love I have for my children, and I don’t know that I will ever be able to. But I’ll try.
I love them. I love all of them. Their tears make me cry with them. Their smiles light up my day. When they laugh, I laugh. The bloody cut I cleaned on Queenie’s arm the other day felt like my own skin had been broken. My heart weeps when they are scared or when they grieve over the things that always upset children. I cherish the moments when they are sick, like Henry and Elias were this week, because it means I can cuddle up with them on the couch and watch the movies of my childhood with them (Fern Gully, anyone?) and hold them close. I can barely contain my joy when Beauty reads a word on her own. When Johnny calls me “Princess Sarah,” my grin could light the village even during a power outage.
As I read to them about the Fall, and tell them about Jesus, my voice breaks with emotion because I want them to know and to understand more than anything else in the world what Christ has done for them and how much He loves them. I want them to spend an eternity with Him, and me, in heaven.
Tonight, after reading bedtime Bible stories to the older kids, I gave out goodnight hugs and kisses. As Henry wrapped his little arms around me, I realized something – that I am leaving in two weeks, and I will most likely never see these children again. Soon I will have to hug Henry, and the rest, for the last time. That thought made it so hard to let go of him tonight.
All I can say is that I love them – completely, and wholeheartedly. I would die for these children. I would give anything for them.
There is nothing special or unique about our kids. But as I’ve written before, I love them simply because I know them, and because I am granted the opportunity to love them. I love them because God made them, each and every one of them. I love them because they were born.
I don’t know how I fell in the love with these kids. It certainly wasn’t on purpose. And sometimes, they can be so incredibly annoying – like when Johnny refuses to stay in his bed during naptime and laughs as I discipline him, or when Henry hangs on to me and prevents me from walking, or when Janet decides to be stubborn or when Jennifer throws a tantrum that involves screaming and wetting herself. There are times when I don’t want to read to them, when I don’t want to teach school, when I want to tell them to get over their paper cuts and bruises and stop crying.
But even in those moments, I love them. No matter what they do, I will love them.
I suspect this is a shadow of what real motherhood is like. Unconditional love for a tiny human being that constantly cries, disobeys, and breaks things. It’s crazy, and dangerous, and I love it. It is also an amazing image of God’s unconditional love for us, like a parent of a wayward child. The love I have for the children of the Kazembe Orphanage reminds me of just how powerfully I am loved by my Father in heaven. I am humbled by that kind of love, and I hope to imitate it on earth.
Along with the other volunteers, I am in the habit of calling the orphans “my kids.” “My kinders,” “my baby,” “my Henry,” “my sweet Jennifer,” etc. But they are not mine, not really. I am not their mother. I did not carry them or raise them. I do not care for them daily throughout the year – that job belongs to the Morrows. I am only a part of their lives briefly. I cannot claim them as my own. They are not my children. And some day soon, I will leave them.
But I think there is a claim I can make to them, one that they have already offered me. I love them as though I am their aunt, and fittingly, they call me “Auntie Sarah.”
I think about my aunts – April, Carrie, Robin, and Adrienne – and the influence they have had on me. Although they were not the women who raised me, a huge part of who I am is a result of who they are. They are all strong women with strong opinions and convictions, and they have affected my thoughts on everything from the Bible, education, and gender equality to motherhood, justice, literature, as well as so much more. They have challenged me to be a better woman from an early age, and encouraged me by their examples. They have educated me and shaped my faith in a way that I hope to replicate for a time here.
Now I know a bit of what it is like to be an aunt – to play a part in the life of a child who is not your own but whom you love desperately and dearly.
The thought of leaving in two weeks is something I cannot even yet begin to contemplate. The thought of never seeing these faces again, of never hearing this laughter, of no longer wiping away tires and kissing owies and soothing fevers and doling out hugs, is one I’m not willing to entertain.
I love these kids. With all my heart, I love them.
I am so, so happy to be their Auntie. I will be their Auntie forever.
I will love them forever.