One is the loneliest Number

Difficult to not feel ashamed.

That’s the painful part of what goes through your mind as you watch the vans pull away. Not shame for what you have—who you have—but for what you have never done, or have not done enough of. My 25 years have been spent in the lush splendor that is the American lifestyle, and the orphans are riding a bus back to the relative loneliness inside of them. For a week, they have lived outside of that ache, warmed by the touch and smiles of Chinese and American volunteers committed to loving them at any cost. But a week, what is it, when I will spend the next fifty between the comfortable lines I have drawn for myself at home? What have I done? As the months stretch out into next year, then the next, will a week matter?

This morning, during breakfast, I pulled out my journal and wrote what I saw as I watched the hard shell of my most difficult child, Jake, melt and fall away.

“We’re eating our last meal together. John just told me he will always remember me. Jake looked sad; he was not talkative, as usual. I asked my translator if Jake was sad, and he said he didn’t think so. But, as we both watched the small boy slowly eat his food, we saw a lone teardrop roll to the tip of his nose.”

It is in such moments when your own grief surfaces.

But then again, you know.

You know a week is a week—no more, but also no less. Five days of joy Jake would not have had otherwise.

You know it means more to the kids than you can understand. Because they said so. Looked you in the eye and said the words in beautiful, tonal Mandarin: “I will never forget you.”

You know it is right. You know you have obeyed the One who sent you here in the first place, if only for two weeks.

And you hope that they have seen a fingerprint on you that they will recognize on someone else years from now—something intangible, yet unmistakable.

All these things swirl around for a mixture of emotions, bitter and sweet—the bitter more instructive, the sweet like little tastes of heaven.

As Jake wept inside the van, my palm pressed to his cheek, I thought, “How could I not come back next year?” I sense a feeling of accomplishment, but also that what I have done is not nearly enough.

Bringing the orphans hope has become a lifelong calling, even if I can only answer for a few weeks every year.

They are the weeks I will cherish the most.

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