The Language of “I Promise”

Ezra, our Congolese son, is home. It’s the thing we’ve been praying for and waiting on for nearly four years. Now that he’s home, it’s time for the real work to begin.

Often when you look at pictures of families, you see their best selves—smiles and hugs and clean shirts. What isn’t always evident is the hurt behind the eyes, and this is the reality for our son.

On the day after he came to America, we walked to the elementary school playground near our house. We were having a great time on a perfect Sunday afternoon. There was running and chasing and happy hollering. As he stood on a piece of the playground structure, I went to give him a hug but I accidentally gave him a static electricity shock instead. He recoiled from me like I had done it on purpose. Our other son went to comfort him and shocked him, too. Ezra’s eyes showed hurt and fear. No amount of “I’m so sorry!” could pacify him. He ran from us and cowered in the corner of the playground, like a frightened rabbit.

When his dad and siblings leave for work and school each morning, Ezra mourns for them. His response is to throw himself on the living room floor and weep like there’s no tomorrow. He cries, “Papa!” and “Ya-ya” (his collective word for his brother and sisters). I try to tell him that they are at work (mosala) and school (kelasi). I hold his wet cheeks in my hands and say, “I promise they will come back. I promise.” But even if I tell him this in Lingala (his native language), fully expressing the truth of their return is difficult. Him grasping this truth is even harder.

He hasn’t learned the heart language of fulfilled promises and the only way to teach him this language is with the consistency of time. How else can an orphan really know “family”? How can a child who’s known no parents since he was an infant understand how to rely on a father? How can a boy who has longed for a mother trust the embrace of a woman he barely knows?

Our plan is to wake up every morning and show him. We’ll show him that we’re trustworthy and we’re in this for keeps, no matter if he’s naughty or happy or grouchy or sick or stinky or sweet. We won’t always be as patient as we should be and we’ll misunderstand him frequently but we’ll keep trying. Missteps won’t prevent us from taking steps toward him feeling secure.

Most people who have already been where we are now say that it takes a full year to accomplish a sense of normalcy again. We waited four years to bring him home. What’s another year to make sure his heart has also completed the journey home?

2 replies
  1. Betty Sanders
    Betty Sanders says:

    Praying for your family. What a wonderful family you are to love and care for Ezra. We have been following your journey through our daughter, Lori Stephens.

    Reply

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