Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Good Mess, A Pleasant Surprise, and my Thankful Heart

       A few days later it was time for me to head back to school. I was certainly not ready go back to the land of college competition. I felt that this break had been nothing but a tease. As I was packing my things and preparing to go, I saw a head of dark brown hair appear just inside my door.
            “Chelsey?” Caelyn said, “Are you gonna go?” I tried to explain to her that I had to go back to school. When she finally consented, she said, “I wanna do something fun with you before you leave.” I thought long and hard, I finally decided to teach her something she could do when I wasn’t around. I decided to teach her how to make scratch art- the activity I learned in VBS when I was in first grade. It was simple- color with a black crayon and then you can scratch it off and it looks really artsy. So Caelyn and I ran around the house collecting all of the black crayons we could find. I collected some scraps of paper and we began to color our base layer. Caelyn loved scribble scrabbling all over the paper. We cheerfully called it a “good mess.” Then we proceeded to conceal every centimeter of color with a thick, waxy layer of black crayon. We made more “good messes” as we colored furiously. I left Caelyn coloring to find some toothpicks. I searched frantically, but found none, so we used one of the multiple pairs of chopsticks we have lying around my home.
            I return to an eager-eyed little girl, bouncing in her bright blue sneakers as she waited to see what I had planned next. I sat down with her and I began to etch away the black… and I etched… and I etched… and for some reason it was not working. I scratched and dug my chopstick into my paper until I tore a hole in it. Eyes squinting with laughter, I declared to Caelyn, “Well, that was a fail.” She took the chopstick and dragged it across her black sheet of paper. It made the faintest streak- invisible really, unless you saw it being made. But she loved it. We colored a little bit more, until the time of my departure had arrived.
            My whole family helped me carry my bags to my car in the pouring rain. Caelyn ran up to my window in the rain as I was driving away, my mom yelling after her to “come back here!” “Bye Chelsey!!! I love you!! I miss you!” she yelled as I drove away. I watched her petite and flailing figure grow smaller and smaller in my rear-view mirror until the distance overcame my poor eyesight.
            The next day I woke up in my dorm. I rolled out of bed and slowly got ready for class. As I checked my watch, I decided to skip breakfast this morning. I was not in the best of moods. Not only was it Monday, but it was a Monday just getting back from a break. I was exhausted and ready to be back at home.
            Tuesday; however, wasn’t much better. In fact, it was the exact same. I felt just as ready to go home.
            Wednesday came and passed.
            Thursday followed Wednesday, as it always does, and my day felt more monotonous than ever. As I was walking past the Kugal, I reviewed the last week to myself. I became very thankful for my family all over again. And I smiled as I remembered the humorous memories my sisters and I had made over the break. Routine overcame my apathy as I headed down to the post office to check my mail.
            I turned the key with a lack of anticipation. I glanced in expecting another empty mailbox. To my surprise, there resting in the back of my miniature P.O. box was a little pink envelope. I knew from the scrawly penmanship that it was from Caelyn. I grinned ear to ear as I tore apart the seal. Inside was two pieces of loose-leaf lined paper. The first one had a heart and cross on it. It said, “I love you, I miss you.” The second one was what I would call a “good mess.” Half of it was colorful and had a bunch of random, sweet, English words written on it, the other half was black with several very faint lines craved into the blackness. I laughed out loud as I scrutinized the illegible mess. I never figured out what it said, but I know it was something special.
            As I left the post office, spirits high, I became thankful all over again. I am so grateful to have my adopted sister who can encourage me to see even the biggest failures as a “good mess” and something that can bring a little joy to a restless college student. I stopped and looked up towards the sky, admiring everything around me, suddenly seeing with appreciative eyes. I drank in the sunlight as I gazed into the beautiful sunset surrounding me. The leaves on the trees fell softly on the ground in front of me as I closed my eyes, exhaling in contentment. I smiled to myself, thinking and admiring my sister of eighteen months’ beauty, innocence, and generosity. She, one who had only been exposed to my native language for eighteen months, who had only been able to experience family life for a year and a half, was teaching me- a young adult of nineteen years, living a very monotonous life what it means to have
 A Thankful Heart.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Second First Thanksgiving... and My Thankful Heart

     Twelve months passed and before we knew it, another Thanksgiving holiday was upon us. The kitchen erupted with an echo of joyful noise. I laughed as my sister, Carli, ran dramatically around the kitchen, singing melodiously at the top of her lungs, while being chased by a spastic and screaming eight year old, Caelyn. I tried desperately to get out of their way, carrying my bowl of in-the-making sweet potato casserole. My dad comes running into the kitchen from outside yelling, “Where’s the turkey? I just had it! How could I lose a turkey?” My mom circles around the dining room table one last time, makes sure there are enough festive plates, and begins setting out deviled eggs, sparkling grape juice, and other thanksgiving dishes.
            Once all of the food had been prepared, the table was set, and everyone had been assembled, my entire immediate family sat down to enjoy another thanksgiving meal together. It is not very often that all of my siblings and I are home at the same time, so this was a special occasion besides the annual occurrence of the holiday.
            Hands held fast, eyes shut firmly, and hearts prayed fervently as my family and I said our thanksgiving blessing. Before my mom could start the “go around the table and share something that you are thankful for” game, Caelyn stood to her feet, grasping something tightly in her hands. My mind flashed back to our first meeting in China as I watched her turn over the small gifts she had in her precious palms.
            “Family,” she caught our attention. Meddling with the objects in her hands, she announce, “Take one and pass it down.” She unveiled her gifts- notes. Letters that each read, “Family. Thank you. I love you.” On each letter, she had drawn hearts, crosses, and a picture of our family. My mom then announced that Caelyn had told her earlier, “This is my first Thanksgiving.”
            I smiled as I remembered last year’s Thanksgiving in North Carolina. It then occurred to me that my little sister understood Thanksgiving for the first time this year. She’d been telling me all day what she was thankful for. I had played a game of make believe in her pink and purple Fischer Price play house earlier that day, and she told me over and over, “I am thankful for my family!” My sister had been blessed with wisdom beyond her years, which she shared ever-so-sweetly with her family through these simple gifts. I couldn’t help being amazed by Caelyn’s thoughtfulness and generosity. My youngest sister was an inspiration to her family; an encouragement constantly leading me towards
A Thankful Heart.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

First Thanksgiving, Stickered Redemption, and My Thankful Heart

      It was a quarter till noon when we pulled up to my grandparents’ historic three-bedroom house on a homely hill. My family of seven quickly cleared out of the car as soon as our silver Pacifica was parked. All at once it became the typical race to the doorbell as my sister and I launched ourselves off the log wall and bolted towards the front door. We'd hardly made it to the threshold when Caelyn came bounding behind us, riding on my older brother’s back. Despite the exhaustion evident in her eyes, she wore a smile that was contagious enough to clear the world of sadness. My siblings and I waited for my grandparents to open the front door as we stood shivering in the North Carolina winter. When they finally unlatched the door, Caelyn did not hesitate to leap through the crowd of massive people and hurl herself into our waiting grandparents’ arms. The moment of our arrival was saturated with joy as my youngest sister rang out in joyous cries of over-stimulation. “Happy Thanksgiving!” she screamed as her teeny feet flung dirt and dust into our amused faces. The rest of us unloaded the car and hustled after her into the warmth of my dad’s childhood home.
      The house began to swarm as cousins, aunts, uncles, great aunts, and other odd relatives filled the small home. My cousins and I met each other with hugs and squeals, thankful to see each other again after a year of waiting. Caelyn thrived as the center of attention for the entire weekend. Her broken English and boisterous laughter became the highlight of everyone’s thanksgiving. After a couple days of being cooped on in the house, my cousins and I decided to take a trip to the mall. Caelyn squeezed my hand, and let out a exuberant cry of consent at the word, “shopping.”
      “Caelyn,” my mom beckoned, “You can’t go with them. It’s almost bedtime.”
      Caelyn’s countenance collapsed; she stared up at me as tears filled her eyes. “Chelsey…” she wined as I watched a single tear well up and drip slowly down her cheek. I shook my head remorsefully and let go of her hand as we left the house. I walked behind the group, heart breaking as I heard my youngest sister crying behind us…
      The next morning I woke up to find a balled up piece of paper at the foot of my bed. I reached up for it and found another one. Slowly, I unwrapped the mysterious wads to find two halves of a barely legible, carefully crafted note that said, “FoRm CaelYn… to CHelsy.” My heart broke as I recalled the events of the night before. Caelyn had drawn me this picture and left it on my bed, but in her wrath had come up to my room after I left and torn and crumpled it up. I called my youngest sister to my room.
      “Caelyn…” She looked up at me with pain-filled eyes. “Did you make this for me?” Avoiding my gaze, she focused intently on the droopy ears of her bunny slippers. I smiled brightly as I exclaimed, “Caelyn. Look at me… this is beautiful. I love it!” She looked up at me with disregard before reverting her gaze once again. “Did you rip it because you were mad at me?” Bingo. She looked me straight in the eyes as tears began to well up in her big, brown, almond eyes. I swept her up in a huge hug. She kicked against me initially, fighting my affections; but slowly she melted into my arms. The tears kept coming. I plopped her on my bed and sat gazing into her eyes. “I love it so much, I’m going to fix it.” I left the room intentionally, knowing she’d be following me. We walked together down the stairs to my grandmother’s desk where we found a pile of assorted stickers.
     “I’m going to make it beautiful again.” 
     Caelyn watched me keenly as I flattened the paper, placed the two halves together, and used the stickers to keep them together. I held up the new creation, a beautiful rainbow of stickers, crayon, and her original letters, “FoRm CaelYn… to CHelsy.” I gripped it with pride and looked at her with joy. She saw my sincerity and gave me a powerful hug, softly whispering, “Yay! Sisters…” as I dried her tears. “Yeah, Caelyn. We’re sisters,” I spoke with gleaming eyes and a thoughtful grin.
      Once again my sister had taught me a valuable lesson of thanksgiving. I was humbled as I realized the symbolism of the scene. I am a broken masterpiece, redeemed by Christ, and treasured by the most high king. I held her drawing in my hand, mentally noting it as one of the dearest gifts I’d ever received. I hung it on my wall, titled it as “Stickered Redemption,” and marveled once again at God’s ability to use such an unaware seven year old to teach me what it means to have
A Thankful Heart.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Story of Adoption, Caelyn's Gifts, and my Thankful Heart..

We made it! I soaked in the sights as my feet landed on solid ground, smiling at my sister as my parents hurried us along towards baggage claim.  “Huan ying lai Zhong Guo! Welcome to China!” declared our friendly translator Rebecca. I was filled with excitement as I climbed into the shuttle. After everyone was seated, Rebecca began to explain our agenda for the next twelve days.
      “This is the week you have all been waiting for- some of you have waited several years. In just two days you will finally meet your children. We will meet the babies at twelve o’clock tomorrow…”
      The excitement was almost too much to bear. I couldn’t believe we had actually made it to China. In just forty-eight hours I would be united with my new, long-awaited sister. God had been so present and faithful throughout the whole adoption process. It all started eighteen months ago when my dad and I went on a short-term mission trip to an orphanage in Jiang Jin, China. There the Lord tenderly broke my heart and softened my dad’s. For years he had been stubbornly apposed to the idea of adoption. His constant reasoning against my mom’s ever-melting heart was, “Just because there’s a need doesn’t mean there’s a calling.”  So nothing surprised me more than my dad’s strong conviction to adopt a child as soon as we left China. When we got back, we immediately started the process and began making preparations for our newest addition to the family. I wrote an appeal to my school asking for permission to learn Mandarin Chinese. The permission was granted and I began the seemingly eternal process of learning my youngest sister’s native tongue. Now, after six months of Chinese and eighteen months of waiting, we were on our way to be united with her at last.
      Two days later, excitement was high, but nerves were higher. While we waited to see our six-year old sister for the first time, my mom lectured my sister and I on how to hold the cameras as we both recorded the meeting. The enthusiasm was high, but the impatience was higher. My sister and I nodded, too excited to pay attention. We waited in eager expectation, staring at the door as if we would miss her in the blink of an eye. The doorknob turned and we heard her name, “Yang Yi!” We hustled up to the door, cameras ready, squealing with delight. Slowly the door opened and there stood my youngest sister, Caelyn Yang Yi Bennett.
      I will never forget the perplexed look on her face. Her precious eyes displayed so many emotions with just one glance: excitement, fear, confusion, happiness, sadness. My parents got down on her level and called her over. She approached us slowly, clutching something tightly in her tiny hands. Then, as if something had clicked, she pointed at us with knowing eyes. Rambling in Chinese, her face began to glow. “Mama! Baba!” she came forward with confidence and hugged us all one by one. She pulled my mom close and revealed the treasures that she grasped so tightly in her hands: two sticks of gum and two lollipops. She joyfully distributed these gifts to her new family, beaming with pride as we gawked over the scene. It was all so clear in that moment: we were family. She was meant to be with us, and finally we were together.
      I smiled profusely as I began to realize what a blessing my sister’s adoption was. I beamed from the inside out, filled with joy as I witnessed the pinnacle fulfillment of my family’s hope. I held her small gift, a precious lollipop, in my hand with such dignity. Her small gesture spoke such high volumes of truth to my soul. I realized in that moment that I am incredibly blessed and had only just begun the grandiose journey of learning what it truly means to have
A Thankful Heart.