The first time Raquel* met her second parents, they ushered her into their rented apartment and showed her a variety of items symbolizing her new life. Raquel proceeding to express her interest in this new life by throwing each of the articles of clothing into a heaping pile at the feet of her excited audience, at which point she began stomping up and down on top of those supposed symbols. In case she hadn’t yet gotten her point across, Raquel then showed off a vast vocabulary of swear words and obscene gestures to her new family.
“She’s a fiery one,” the orphan care workers had explained.
“That’s one way to put it,” her adopting mother thought, as she pondered the road in front of her.
By age six, Raquel had been neglected, abused, and thrown away by a family who didn’t know how to do otherwise. Born as a consequence of prostitution, she never knew what it even meant to have an earthly father. Sent to the streets to sell tortillas before some kids leave the crib, she never knew the safety or security of home. Stabbed and left for dead by her first mother, under the watchful eye of a grandmother, she never knew the unconditional love of family.
Stacy was probably one of the most prepared adopting moms I’ve ever seen. She was a social worker by trade, as well as experienced… seeing as how this was her second international adoption. She knew all about the alphabet soup — stuff like SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder), FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome), RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder), and of course PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) — that can go with the territory, no matter what the age of the child.
And yet it only took a few interactions with her during that first month in-country, for me to recognize that even she was struggling. Make no mistake: this caring for hurting kids is hard, hard stuff. After almost three months of it, she was ready to go home. Really, really ready. She had made it through a million I-hate-yous — and had a growing bond because of it — but mostly felt like she was just barely surviving.
This is how we found ourselves discussing her situation over plastic cups of bottled water in Nicaragua’s hottest season. “I’m empty,” Stacy admitted with a deep sigh. “I don’t understand why God is keeping me here so long. I need my husband, my sons, my family back home. I need all that is comfortable and safe, to escape all that is not.”
“I’ve noticed God seems to keep you here not until you’re ready to go (because that happens pretty quickly), but until the kids are ready,” I offered.
Each night for the past month of sharing a home with our family, Raquel had been telling long stories. These came in fast and furious Spanish… tales of being threatened and beaten, abused and stabbed. It certainly wasn’t pleasant dinner conversation, but she seemed to have this unabated need to share and share again until someone could take away the power these experiences held over her. Between my daughters and I, we had pieced together what we understood into a story none of us wanted to ever think about, let alone retell.
Stacy turned away in an attempt to hide her emotions, because we both knew Raquel was nowhere near ready.
For Raquel, Easter Sunday came with little fanfare. It began the way all Sundays had started since her second mom came to foster her two and a half month prior, with a trip to church. Everyone talked about new life and Jesus, stuff Raquel had heard a lot about from her new family. This Sunday, however, there was a huge buffet of food — the most prepared food, in fact, she’d ever seen in one place! Everyone returned to the house with full bellies and joyful hearts.
Everyone, that is, except Raquel.
Her new mom kept talking about how they were going to the U.S. soon, and it did not make Raquel happy. She didn’t have a great family in Nicaragua, but at least she knew them. They looked like her, talked like her, and prepared the food she enjoyed, which was nothing like this new mom who didn’t look anything like her, didn’t understand her, and made her eat all sorts of weird things. She didn’t understand that she could never return to that family. She just wanted things to make sense… and the thought of the mess her life had become often brought tears to her young eyes.
As I was preparing to escape into my own bedroom downstairs, Stacy stopped me to resume a conversation we had started during the church fellowship time. “Do you think you could ask her once more?” she questioned. “I just want to get a final answer about what to call her.”
When Stacy first met Raquel, one of her caregivers shared that the child had sometimes asked to be called Rachel. The caregiver offered this piece of information almost as an afterthought, but it tugged at Stacy’s heart. She loved the name Rachel and could absolutely imagine calling her daughter by that name, but every time she tried over the first three months of their time together, Raquel simply ignored her.
But she couldn’t quite let it go, so she asked me to talk to her daughter one last time to see if I could get a clear answer about what name she preferred. (It is common for older children to select new first names to go with the new last names of their adopted family.) If I am honest, I will tell you I was almost dismissive, ready to have some me time after a busy morning, but I addressed the child.
“Raquel,” I turned on my mas-o-menos Spanish. “Your mom is able to change your name when you go to the United States. Would you like to change your name? We know you like the name Rachel. Would you like to be Raquel or Rachel?”
She stared up at me with the saddest face I have ever stood next to, then dropped her gaze to the floor in front of us. “Raquel? Raquel es broken,” she said in thickly accented and broken English.”
Immediately, it was as if the world had shifted on its axis. I looked to Stacy to get permission before continuing in Spanish. I have no psychology degree, and no pastoral training, and I felt completely inadequate to respond. I got down on her level and knelt in front of her. I prayed I would speak God’s truth into her heart, then took her hands into mine. “Raquel, I’m sorry for what your mom did to you. I’m sorry you were hurt. But you have a new life in front of you… Jesus knows your pain and wants to give you a new life, and a new family. Stacy loves you so much and wants you to be her daughter forever. Maybe Raquel was broken, but Rachel is not. Rachel has a new life and a new family. Do you want to be Rachel? Will you accept this new life?”
And just like that, she wanted to only be called Rachel… the beginning of a new creation.
This doesn’t mean she was perfect, not by any means. But there was an obvious and drastic change in this child almost immediately. From that moment on, she corrected anyone who called her Raquel, telling them her name was Rachel. She became infatuated with looking at photos of her new family, new home, and new school (even though she previously had been uninterested). She smiled when we talked about going to the United States and she no longer retold those tales of horror that had become such an uncomfortable nightly routine. It was as if a huge weight had been lifted from the child’s shoulders.
Three days after Easter, Stacy got the call that she had been waiting for. The council had met and their adoption was approved. There were still a few hoops to jump through, but they were mostly routine. Three weeks later Stacy and
RaquelRachel boarded a plane bound for their new life together. Their journey, of course, is not over. Rachel has a long road ahead of her to recover for the trauma she experienced in those first six years. But she’s made courageous and life-changing first steps.
I think it’s so appropriate to write about Rachel’s story on a day when U.S. citizens all over the world are celebrating our Independence Day. Stacy and her family came to Nicaragua to provide a new life and a new home to an orphan. In addition, they offered her independence from the chains of poverty, abuse, and addiction that had plagued her life. I know that not all of us can do what this family is doing. But… can’t we all help those who — like Stacy — are able to give these kids a chance at a new life?
We’re trying to do just that. We’re trying to walk along side of these adopting families, to support them in any way possible as they welcome an orphan-no-more into their lives and their homes. But we can’t do it alone. We need your help.
Please help us help them.
*Names have been changed. Photos do not depict actual characters in this story.