My little daughter, Joy, had a twelve-hour surgery last week. She had an ear installed where there was no ear. Did you know that was possible? Let me tell you how it works. You go to the hospital and say, “I’ll take one human ear, thank you,” and then you wait in a waiting room with a big aquarium that has only one fish in it, then doctors do doctor things, and then your daughter has an ear.
I’m not kidding.
Joy is a special girl. She was born in China without any ears and we didn’t meet her until she was almost four. We couldn’t have known all the amazing things God would do in and through her when we decided to pursue adoption, so we remain in awe that this little person who couldn’t hear, communicate, walk, or use the bathroom by herself is now a fluent signer, a giggly sister, and a passionate laundry folder.
But I’m not here to talk about her skills. I’m here to talk about the qualities she possesses that puzzle me.
Over the past few years, it’s been striking to witness some of her traits—traits I don’t always have but always want—an ongoing gratitude, an unconquerable courage, and a craving for community. I know the trauma of her early years could have and probably should have led her to become hard, angry, and guarded, but instead, God chose to use her little life to encourage people.
God has used Joy to help me see what He wants to do in me. Witnessing the way she has responded to the trauma she suffered in her formative years, before I met her, and how she lives now, as my adopted daughter, challenges me. This girl, especially the week of her big surgery, has led me to worship the God who adopted me and has led me to desire to be more like He says I can be.
I’m adopted by God. I want to look like it.
Here are three Jesus-like qualities I pray we can all experience as God’s adopted daughters and sons.
Joy has never expected or demanded good things in her life. I won’t get into everything she endured, but on the other side of her early neglect, she lives grateful. And I couldn’t get over how precious she was after surgery.
She was hurting. She was all cut up. She was hungry. But somehow, she was grateful. Obviously, immediately grateful for our presence and her little can of Sprite®. And it’s not like she’s an official saint. She has her moments of anger or selfishness or fill in the blank, like we all do. But she bounces back to thankful faster than anyone I know. Her baseline is so much closer to joyful because she seems to see much of life as a pleasure, not a problem. I think it is because having the history she has makes her more thankful for the present.
That could be me. Colossians 1:11b-12 says, “… so that you may have great endurance and patience, joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light.”
That’s my story.
And Joy, in the recovery room, made me long for gratitude. Her gratefulness made me long for Jesus. It made me remember my true position as an adopted-by-God daughter. A sister of Christ. Someone who has a painful past and no right to make demands, but someone who has inherited the Kingdom anyway.
My husband calls Joy “a tank.” It’s unlikely that nickname will make it to middle school, but for now, it fits her. She is the toughest member of our family.
I spent the night in Joy’s room after surgery. She’d had so much skin taken from several places on her body and used to make the new ear that was sewn onto her head. So, of course, she was in pain. It’s hard to say how much though, because she generally just takes difficulty as it comes.
Me: “Joy, when did you fall and scrape your side all up?”
Joy: “I don’t know.”
Me: “Joy, you have to get a shot today.”
Me: “Joy, do you want to have your head shaved and have a twelve hour surgery and have skin taken from your arm and stomach and head and it will be really painful and it will take weeks to recover and then you’ll have an ear?”
Joy: “Please, can we go tomorrow?” (seriously)
I don’t know if it is simply that she doesn’t encounter worries that compare to the life she lived for her first four years, but Joy is brave. She is almost unfazed by pain and difficult situations in a way that makes my husband call her a tank and makes me want to be more like a six-year-old Chinese girl.
But in Jesus, I have a similar situation. My past is darkness and death and defeat. But it is also done. Everything in my life that needed to be fought, Jesus finished. Everything in me that needs to change is no longer me, but Christ. Now I’m adopted and rescued and why should I be afraid? Sometimes I am, but when I understand my situation, courage makes more sense.
“Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights to give you the kingdom.” — Luke 12:32
I mean, God is my dad.
“…in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mere humans do to me?” — Psalm 52:11
Craving for Community
Mere minutes after waking up from surgery, a family friend walked in and Joy lit up, signing, “B-I-L-L.”
We sat in the hospital room that night, and my sweet 86-year-old grandma was in a chair in the corner. A few minutes went by, and sweet Joy, in her giant head bandage, signed, “Where’s Grandma?” She was in pain, but she wanted to be with her great-grandma.
When her sisters came to see her the next day, she wanted to share all the art supplies she got from people who knew she’d like a bouquet of markers more than a bouquet of anything else.
When she threw up because of the medicine, she signed, “Please tell my sisters I threw up.”
Her desire to share and be with us and tell about every little regurgitation reminded me what a big deal it is that I have a new family. In Jesus, I have a forever family. So many seasons of life have sent me looking for the people who love me and help me and build up my faith. God’s decision to adopt us was a decision that meant we don’t live alone. We get to live in community with Him and other believers forever.
I think it’s cool that Joy’s life makes me want more Jesus.
Her response to surgery led me to worship. It led me to remember how sweet it is to be cared for by my Father, and it made me want my life to reflect the reality of my spiritual adoption. And it made me want to leave you with Joy’s life verse: “He who has an ear, let him hear …” : )