She Took My Breath Away

Maggie Dunn
November 13, 2022

Throughout life there are moments that take your breath away. Moments that mark you, and you are never the same.

I’ve had my breath taken away a time or two in this privileged life I’ve been given!

As a child, I remember being outside on very frigid Michigan winter days, and the whipping wind would actually take my breath away. Standing on the sledding hill that we called "Bald Mountain", I  struggled to inhale. As I trudged through the snow, hauling a sled (that was usually bogged down with a sibling or two), I remember feeling breathlessness, and pulling up my scarf so that my inhales would be filtered through the warmth of the damp wool.

As an adult, so overcome with love, I held my very breath as I held my sweet babies. Caressing them. Some snuggled fetal with porcelain skin, some a bit older with a milky caramel tone and others (the smallest human I’d ever held) with ebony skin as flawless as the night sky. I could stare at them for hours... and if they caught my breath just right, it would take their very own breath away for just a moment. If we went outside on a windy day, I was so careful to keep them covered with something gauzey that would not allow the wind on their sweet faces. Their breathing was airy, and fragile, and any draft could cause them to gasp as their breaths were stolen right out of their chests.

Throughout life there are moments that take your breath away. Moments that mark you, and you are never the same.

Anxiously, I walked into the agency in Pontiac. I shifted into another mental gear and braced myself a bit. I knew that I was going to meet the youngest child that I had ever considered for placement at HOP. In her vapor-of-a-life, here on this planet, she had only known torment, trauma, starvation, abandonment and neglect. I was braced. I was a professional. I was ready.

As soon as my eyes met the eyes of this wispy child, she ran to me. I was struck by how very tiny she was. Even for seven, she was slight. She clumsily bounded onto me for a hug. I was so honored to oblige. She was trembling. She matter-of-factly asked if I was the one that was going to "try to be her momma, this time".  I suddenly found myself in another breathtaking, life-altering moment. I choked back my shock, and I changed the subject. I stammered and trembled right back. I was NOT ready.

We hugged, and I’m certain that we both felt the weight of it.

She has autism. She is naive and trusting. She has a very disorganized attachment style from her trauma and extreme neglect. She feels communal and doesn't know where, or to whom she belongs. She talks to everyone about every fleeting thought. She doesn’t understand our adult pretentiousness. She doesn't take (or even notice) social cues. She has never met a stranger and she wants everyone to feel like sunshine and puppy dogs when they are in her presence. She doesn’t know that there are things that are too off-putting to say out loud in America...and I am glad. Her authentic conversations are convicting, and I need them! We all do!

Standing in the sterile and professional conference room, I awkwardly regained my breath and composure. Still choking back my racing emotions, I fixed my face. There is nothing that can brace you (if you are half human with a pulse) to meet an orphan face-to-face, who asks for anyone to step up and be her mother. How do you answer a child when she asks if you want to be her momma? If you have never faced this, you can't begin to know the way it punches you in the gut. I have been asked this question by so many of our girls, and it never gets easier.

We walked to the table, and she sat right down on my lap. We looked through the new backpack and began to chat about all of the new school supplies that she had just received. She chattered on and on and was enamored with her new ruler. I could have listened to her for hours. She has a sweet tone and a memory that rivals any savant. Together, we measured everything in sight. Her joy was contagious and her aloneness was overwhelming. The dichotomy of feelings in that single meeting was a nightmare for my (quite robust) mental filing system!

Seven years old. Alone. No momma. No daddy. No one to care about her school concert (not to mention the kakhi skirt that was "required"). Never a daddy daughter dance. Never a birthday cake. Never a gentle lullaby with her name in it. Only a fight to stay alive and away from the predators that lurked. A survival mode so primal and prolonged that her adrenals are worn plain out! How could we say no? We were technically “ full” at HoP. Weren’t we already doing "our part"? But, how could we ever sleep at night knowing that our “no” would send this vulnerable seven-year-old to a Detroit shelter where 17 and 18 year olds fear for their very safety?

Still sitting in that conference room (multitasking, as any good momma can) we were measuring every pencil in her case, and I began texting our team. I texted Jason and asked him to please put up another bed. I felt an urgency and I could not leave without knowing she would soon be coming into the faithful arms of the momma's at HoP. We would receive this sweet baby as soon as possible.

Of course, our team shot into action!  You see, we have the most sturdy and tender women there ever were. They love big and hold nothing back. They love Jesus and work hard. They trust that if the Lord asks us to do it, He will equip us. They assembled the most well thought out welcome bag, and gathered new toys. They purchased new bedding and comforters and made sure every detail was just right! They prepared the other girls and everyone held their collective breath until the day we would welcome our sweet little! We know, at House of Providence, when we work together we can do really hard things! We knew this would not be easy… this taking in a feral child who knows nothing of boundaries, structure or safety… but, we did not sign up for easy.

This little has been with us for months now, and she is the light of our house! We persevere and we wait! She waits. We all wait...for her mommy and daddy to come forward. This is what we do at HoP. Until every child has a home...

Shop HOPDonate