Looking back, I can only imagine how nerve-wracking it must have felt for the young man, answering the barrage of questions from Lidya and Sophie and me.
The story he told is, I suppose, not so different from many others. Of a high school student, and young love and a baby. Of wishing to do right by the child, and trying for awhile to make everything work. And finally of grandparents stepping in and making a decision. He told his story with humility, and in a straight forward way. His good intent was clear, as was his longing for a happier ending, one that didn’t end with an orphanage and a child lost to him forever.
Lost, that is, until twelve years later a man came to his family’s village asking questions and showing photos of a baby in the arms of a nun.
And the father saw the pictures and knew it was her and the grandfather, in whose home this baby had lived for a year, saw the pictures and knew the same thing. And they wondered if it wasn’t an ending that God had in mind after all. Maybe there was more to this story.
And now here we were, hearing the story and looking in this young man’s face– he’s 32 by now– and all we could see was Emily’s cheekbones, and her incredible, unusually beautiful eyes.
I think our hearts felt it even then. But still we wanted more surety, for the sake of our precious Emily’s heart.
We asked if we could meet the man’s father and talk to him too. And we kept praying. We drove with Dawit to a little house in Soddo. (This was the family’s town house, where Tarikegn and his brother and father live and work all week, while the grandmother lives full time out in the countryside on the farm.)
Once out of the van as we walked toward the house, I introduced Tarikegn to all the girls, not specifying which we thought might be his. But his eyes lingered on Emily.
Still Lidya and Sophie and I played judge and jury, asking questions and praying God would guide us. At this point Sophie and Lidya were tag-team translating, since we’d had to leave Dawit back to watch his car.
And Tarikegn and his father continued to answer us with humility and patience, never asking us for one thing. Each detail fit what we knew or added to the story, answering questions that Emily and I have wondered for years. The timing was right. The story fit my momma-instinct that my girl had been well loved. It felt right.
And individually each of us loving Emily came to the same conclusion– the protective momma, and the fierce big sister, and the aunty who’s lived in Ethiopia long enough to be jaded about (many) Ethiopian men. We all believed this was her daddy. And Emily? She felt it too.
And when I got the nod from her, I introduced her to him and she gave him a shy hug and he laughed with delight. And we all didn’t quite know what to do then. Because none of us had ever done this moment before– the one where you realize a stranger is something much more important. But still for this moment you are unknown to each other.
So we set about to remedying that.
I dug a photo album out of my purse, one I’d prepared JUST.IN.CASE the miracle happened and God opened a door and we found someone. And his rapt attention on the album…oh… he was such a daddy, looking at his little girl, catching up on years he’d missed.
After I’d shown him every photo, and we’d clicked a few more pictures of our own, they asked us if we’d like to come inside. There wasn’t a light in the living room/bedroom and it was getting late, but we went in anyway. (The man in blue is grandpa, and the one in red is dad’s brother.)
We took turns asking questions then– talking about what he did for a living (knee work– the Ethiopian word for work that takes strength) and what Emily wants to do when she grows up (maybe a teacher– they loved that answer). And I told them what a friend-maker she is and what a gift she is to our lives. The grandpa then said they’d been praying they would see her again. “It is God who brought her to us.”
He did indeed.
When we didn’t dare stay any longer, we went out into the yard again, admiring the pretty landscaping, especially the tall beautiful sugar cane.
Tarikegn strode up the hill with purpose and broke one down for Emily to take along. Once he had one broken up, he decided that wasn’t quite enough and went up to break one more down, which he carried back to the van for us.
The time felt so short. We had just met him and now we needed to say goodbye. It was hard, and sweet all together.
I thought of the corn earlier in the day given to us by Julianna’s dad. Now there was sugar cane for our sweet Emily from her dad. Then there was their American dad at home working hard, graciously making this trip possible for them.
I don’t know if we’ll ever have a day that feels more awash in the goodness of God. He is good. All the time. God is good.