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The Story Behind the Photo: A Journey Toward Peace and Bonding

riann

For Holt adoptive mom Riann Schell, this photo — taken while bringing her 9-year-old son home from China — is one she cherishes as a big moment in their adoption journey. 

Adoption is often referred to as “a journey.” Maybe because it involves walking roads for which we don’t have a map and scaling walls we didn’t think we have the strength to climb. But a journey, it is. I don’t crave adventure or adrenaline. Heights scare me; change makes my throat constrict. And, yet…

This was not the first time we stood within orphanage walls, waiting for the first glimpse of a face that we had only known in photos. Three times before, we had opened our arms, bringing home an infant, and two toddlers. But this time, a 9-year-old boy would walk into the room, smile bravely and greet us as “mama” and “baba.” As I knelt to wrap my arms around his bundled frame, his chin quivered, his courage wavering. Mine did too.

In our preparations for China, the consistent piece of advice we received from parents of older adoptees was “bring a sibling with you!” It didn’t make sense financially to add another plane ticket and more travel expense, but those other parents couldn’t all be wrong, could they? With a 14-year-old son at home who had been cheering for this little brother, we had a very willing sibling with passport in hand.

Those other parents weren’t wrong. In the hours after meeting our son in that chilly reception room, Milo began to reach for his big brother. The two of them twisted balloon animals, raced matchbox cars and shared M&Ms. We ached a bit, as parents hungry for the affection of a child, but we were thankful that this connection was being forged. Milo knew no English, and our few words of Mandarin were rough. But he and Monte figured out the translator app, patiently trying, trying again to communicate. Fiercely determined, Milo mastered bubble-gum blowing with brother as teacher, and we heard his first laugh. He was eager to please, but he whirled through the hours a bit frantic, fighting sleep each night, waking with tears. We prayed for peace for this brave boy.

This was a wall that we literally had been unprepared to climb, and this journey – most certainly – did not come with a map that was easy to read. And yet, I sat on thousand-year-old stone, with a vista completely unfamiliar before me, and I was not afraid. On that barren mountain in China, the peace that I had prayed for my son enveloped me.

Three days later, we were at the base of the Great Wall. Although we wouldn’t learn until Milo was home that he was a survivor of polio, we did know that his mobility was limited. In near-freezing temperatures, we climbed over one thousand steps to an ancient, crumbling section of the wall. For a child who faltered at cracks in the sidewalk, Milo’s trekking attempts were beautifully courageous. He held tightly to our hands, and finally allowed himself to be carried and comforted by both his daddy and his big brother. At the top, the other adventurers continued up the brick rampart for the views that once protected the nation. Milo and I found a sunny spot of stone and watched from a nest of down jackets as the wind scrabbled across scrub trees and mountains.

This was a wall that we literally had been unprepared to climb, and this journey – most certainly – did not come with a map that was easy to read. And yet, I sat on thousand-year-old stone, with a vista completely unfamiliar before me, and I was not afraid. On that barren mountain in China, the peace that I had prayed for my son enveloped me. Milo stirred in my arms, and Monte shouted and waved from a watchtower window.

As we clamored down the wall that afternoon, we were weary… and thankful… both. Hats still pulled over our ears, we settled in for the drive back into the city. As bare orchards disappeared outside our windows, I turned to see Milo, asleep, curled up against Monte, their fingers intertwined.

Peace.

I was watching my newest son learn to love and trust. And my 14-year-old? He learned much about love, trust and courage on that trip as well.

Today, Milo runs across the yard, his gait still halting but no fear in his stride. He is spelling words in English and solving math problems with pride. He loves piggyback rides and the neighbor’s dog (two of his great fears upon homecoming). He has yet to meet a noodle that he doesn’t love, and he sings in two languages with gusto. Milo is joy. When I remember that fear that might have kept us from this journey, I thank God for journeys without maps, for peace that passes understanding, and for the son that waited nine years for his family to bring him home.

Riann Schell | Rosburg, WA

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