Last year, there were four kids bouncing around the house Christmas morning.
This year there were five.
But there almost weren't.
I was thinking about that this morning. Thinking about how I didn't even know Cheeky existed on December 25, 2008. That Christmas morning, I had a vague image in my mind of the daughter that would one day be. She was around five years old, had dark hair and deep brown eyes. I think God must have smiled at my imaginings. I think He must have chuckled as I searched stores for Asian-looking dolls and worried about whether or not my dream daughter would wish she had light hair and eyes like her siblings.
This morning as Cheeky woke and came out of her room, her white hair mussed, her arms reaching for a hug, I remembered how I hesitated as I filled out the special needs checklist for our agency, the pen hovering above albinism. We'd requested the file for a girl born with the condition the summer after we began our paperwork. A little red-haired, blue eyed doll on our agency specific list. We were too early in the process to be matched with her, and I hadn't thought much about her until I began filling in the special needs paperwork.
And then she was all I could think about.
My husband and I discussed albinism. We decided that as long as our daughter wasn't completely blind we could handle the visual impairment that went with the condition. Then my husband, being him, told me that I should go ahead and mark albinism if that is what I thought God was leading us to.
That's the part of the story everyone knows.
What they don't know is that I didn't mark albinism on the initial form. My mind was set on that little dark haired dream girl, and I sent the form in marked with minor special needs and a few moderate ones.
But not albinism.
That very day, I received an email from our former social worker. I hadn't heard from her since we'd moved from Maryland. The email said that the special needs program needed families willing to adopt children older than six. It said that these children were the ones who waited longest for families and that our agency was looking for families who felt led to adopt an older child. The email ended with the admonition to not jump into older child adoption just to move the process along more quickly but to carefully consider whether or not one of these children would fit into our home.
My husband and I had requested a child between the ages of three and six.
I told my husband about the email, and his response was quick - So, let's change our age specification. Let's tell them that all we care about is that the child be younger than Sassy.
And it felt so right to do that. It felt like what we should have done from the beginning. I contacted our social worker and told her our plans, and she asked that I resubmit the checklist with the new age range. I reprinted the form, filled in everything as I had before, then wrote on the bottom that we were requesting a child born after 2/12/01.
And that should have been the end of that.
I had the envelope addressed and stamped, had that SN checklist in hand, was ready to shove it in the envelope and mail it off, but a sick awful feeling kept me from doing so. Every time I thought of putting the list in the mail, I felt physically ill. It wasn't changing the age that was making me feel that way. It was that word, that condition, that moderate special need that I had hesitated over before.
It was as if God were whispering in my ear, "Let go of your dream. Accept my dream for you."
Before I could second guess that thought, I checked albinism and shoved the paper into the envelope.
She won't have albinism, I thought as I mailed the SN sheet. Only one in 17,000 people are born with it.
But my dream was already changing. I was beginning to picture a very different little girl. This one with light eyes and fair skin. With blond or light brown or strawberry hair.
Three days later, my social worker called. She said that our agency's China team wanted to know if we understood the eye issues that went along with albinism. I assured her that we did. I explained all that I had learned about albinism and actually told her that if the team felt uncomfortable with our request, we'd take it off the list.
Yes, I really did say that.
She assured me that the China team was just making sure we understood, and then she asked me questions about the age range, about a few other needs we'd listed and that was that.
That was Friday, February 6th. On Tuesday, February 10th, I was out shopping with my kids. I'd forgotten my cell phone but didn't think much about it. When I returned home, I saw that my caseworker had called. I hit play, thinking she wanted to ask more questions about our checklist.
When she said she had a referral for us, I nearly fell over. My hands were shaking as I dialed her number. She answered immediately and said she was relieved I'd called. We had less than twelve hours to make a decision about the referral. We had to let the main office know by the end of business.
I didn't hear much after that. Just a few words - Six years old. March 31, 2002. Chongqing. Albinism.
And then I was looking at the picture on my computer. Looking at that cheeky face and that happy smile and that white, white hair.
And my heart knew what my stubborn head had once tried to deny. This was my dream daughter. This blond-haired, blue eyed child was the fulfillment of all I'd been hoping and praying for.
Last year, we celebrated Christmas as a family of six.
This Christmas we celebrated as a family of seven.
Cheeky was excited and bouncy and exuberant.
It didn't occur to me until today that this Christmas almost wasn't. That things could have been much different. Four kids instead of five or a brunette instead of a blond. Dark eyes instead of blue. Five years old instead of seven.
My dream instead of His.
It is true that I would not know what I'd missed out on if I hadn't checked albinism on that list. It is true that I would not know the feel of Cheeky's arms wrapped around my waist, the sound of her silly laughter, the scent of her purple shampoo. It is true that I would only know my own dream, and I would probably be very satisfied with that.
But I did listen to that whispered thought. I did check albinism.
And I do know all those things.
Sometimes we must give up our own dream to have the best dream. That is the lesson I have learned from my journey to Cheeky.
And I am so very, very thankful that I did.