You might not remember me; we met so long ago. But what a difference you made in my life! I was the new girl in your class when we both were in ninth grade. At 14, I worried about making friends in a small school where almost everyone else had been together since kindergarten.
Though I shyly yearned to fit in, I had to sit next to you in class. You taunted me―many times daily―"Everybody hates you!" and sneered almost as often, "Becky, you're so ugly!" You never tired of this material, and the gusto with which you heaped on abuse seemed boundless. You made every single school day a hopeless referendum on my personal value, or so I thought. My reaction was silly, but you know how impressionable young teenagers can be.
It probably looked as if I was taking it, but inside I seethed, and from the bottom of my heart I despised you and your loathsome little school. For nearly 20 years afterward, I never breathed a word about how you'd tormented me. I cared nothing about protecting your reputation; I just couldn't shake the fear that what you'd said was a reflection of me. But deep into my thirties, I finally grasped that your words reflected you alone.
Why the bullying of a cruel misfit would have outweighed the positive messages from my family, I can't say. But your pitiless persecution left me feeling unworthy, unloved, and unneeded. I escaped you and your school after ninth grade, but your sadistic insults haunted me. I worked endlessly to achieve, to show my worthiness. I hated mirrors for years, slumped my shoulders, and studied the floor as I walked to my classes.
But things got better.
My kids―from Guatemala, China, and Russia―are a rare gift.
Somewhere along the way, I learned about orphans in other countries, kids who truly had no one to love or value them. After what you did to me, their pain resonated so viscerally with me that I wanted to comfort them as soon as I was in a position to do so. And I did: I've adopted five children, and have a sixth on the way. My children are a gift from God, but that I ever came to want them was a gift from you.
For all the kids it thrilled me to find adoptive families for, it
was this girl whose adoption meant the world to me.
Later, I began to help orphans from Russia―with some of them, the mean teenaged version of you would surely have had a field day! These poor kids were alone, friendless. They lived in cold orphanages, suffered at the hands of some of their caretakers and peers, and―just like me―felt worthless, and that no one cared. Before Russia closed to American adoption, I helped 80 of these kids find families―my all-time favorite was a beaten-down girl someone dubbed a "crushed little blossom." How my heart sang when she went home to be cherished by the family I found for her! I poured my heart into this work, because of what you taught me. I would gladly have done it forever.
In Russia, with some of the precious kids I tried to help
Once Russia shut down, I had spare time, so I adopted an eight-year-old girl from China; she is blind, but the light of my life. This remarkably winsome child tells me often that before us, not once, not ever, did anyone tell her that she was special. So I remind her of her preciousness every day. And her blindness has been such a minor issue that we are adopting another blind daughter. Adoption agencies say that blind children are among the most difficult to place, and you definitely drilled into me a compassion for the underdog!
What lies have others told poor Jon?
Despite my joy, though, I do have sadness. Several days ago, I saw another child from China. I can't open every email message I receive about waiting orphans; it would overwhelm me to face all that I can't do. But the subject line "Nine-year-old Jon wants a family so badly!" grabbed me, and I had to look. Coincidentally, I found the boy was blind. But his caretakers said he has "sunshine in his mind," which reminds me so much of my daughter, who no one had noticed was unbelievably special.
It was Jon's video that really seized my heart and wouldn't let go. That little boy, desperate for a family, was folding his blanket meticulously, then wiping a table with such urgency, that I understood him instantly. Surely made to feel insignificant because of his disability, he doesn't feel worthy, so he performs in hope of demonstrating his value. After all these years away from you, it's still easy for me to recognize, and it burned a hole in my heart. I wanted that boy for my son, and I wanted to make him know he has value, no matter what other people in his life might tell him.
Jon, age 9, on the blanket he
worked so hard to fold
But after prayer and reflection, it appears that with five children already, one of them blind, and another blind child on her way, I am stretched thin. And homeschooling keeps me busy; I could never entrust my kids to a formal school, after spending a year with you in one. As badly as my heart aches to bring Jon home, and help him heal from all the lies he's been told, I worry I just can't do it right now. So I pray that someone else will find this little treasure, and protect him from the people who'd make him feel like a nothing. If I can't adopt him myself, I will look for someone who can.
My ability to talk about this, then to appreciate your role, has been 30 years in the making. You never meant your heartless words to help anyone, but God turned them into good―good for me, and good for others. I have the most amazing children any mother could ever hope for. And I am living a blessing-drenched life focused on helping kids who believe that each day that goes by without a family is a hopeless referendum on their value.
I know what that feels like, and it changed my life.
For that, Bill, I say thank you.
Update: Jon has since been adopted by a loving family, and is thriving in his new home.