The date was December 3.
I was probably somewhere deep inside of Green Library, surrounded by books and having my first experience with the stress that accompanies a week of college finals. Or maybe I was unsuccessfully trying to ride my bike, wave to a friend, and balance a much-needed cup of hot coffee on my handlebars at the same time. Either way, I was definitely at Stanford University, where opportunities (and kale) are abundant and the feeling that anything is possible is rarely just a feeling.
All the way across the world, somewhere under the acacia trees south of the hippo-filled silvery jewel that is Kenya’s Lake Naivasha, a baby girl was born to a woman whose life’s opportunities likely stand in unjust contrast to mine. I can’t even imagine the mixture of wonder and terror with which this new mother, probably horribly impoverished, beheld the needy little being in her arms. And I’m even less able to comprehend the tragic desperation that then compelled her to put down her most precious, fragile possession and walk away, more confident in the warm summer dirt’s ability to care for her daughter than her own.
This was my baby sister’s first day on Earth, and I thank God that she won’t remember it.
Her next days included a mysterious “Good Samaritan” and a visit to the Children’s Department that ultimately landed her in a plastic tub at Naivasha General Hospital. Nurses whirled around her, dealing with dehydration and diapers and this nameless, lonely baby’s thin cries for help. Right about the time that it became clear that nobody wanted her, I had just completed my first quarter of college and was being greeted at the airport in Nairobi with hugs from my excited family and homemade cinnamon rolls. Life is so unfair.
Fast forward through a week of Christmas vacation days to a hot December afternoon at Naomi’s Village that seemed just like any other- children playing in the sunshine, meetings happening in offices, a couple of loose teeth, lots of chai and laughter… I was walking down the porch when I bumped into Flo, our social worker.
“Are you ready to go get a new baby?” she asked, and then proceeded to tell me of a newborn baby girl in the hospital that the Children’s Department had just called her about.
I’m not sure what happened next- I’m thinking I screamed and hugged her. Honestly, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This baby was ours, and I was going to be here to welcome her home!
So we ran around telling everyone, and whether they were aunties or teachers or the kids themselves, they all reacted as if Christmas morning had come early. For a moment, we were all children, giddy and cheering at the notion of holding the gift we’d been hoping for with all of our might. Within thirty minutes, we had scrambled to find her a crib and clothes, decided to name her Noelle (although 4-year old Francis wanted to call her Christmas Tree), and loaded up two Land Cruisers with people excited to bring home the baby that would never be unwanted again.
I will always remember the moment that our two worlds finally collided. She was a delicate, bright-eyed little angel in the third-to-last plastic tub of Naivasha General Hospital’s warm pink NICU, and I was absolutely enraptured. It didn’t matter that her neglected skin had begun to peel from dryness or that she was so malnourished that her diaper was all but swallowing her- I was hopelessly in love with baby Noelle from the moment I laid eyes on her, and so was everyone else.
“You had a rough start, little one,” my mom told Noelle softly as we wrapped her in a fluffy pink blanket to leave the hospital, “but things are going to get better now.”
I could not help but think that “better” had to be the wonderful understatement of the century. There is no word big enough to fully describe the radical change of trajectory that had occurred in Noelle’s life before my very eyes. The abandoned orphan baby was now the treasure and delight of the most loving family on the face of the Earth. No longer at risk of being marginalized for her gender or held back by poverty, Noelle will get a first-world education and have all of the same opportunities at her fingertips as I have at mine. The little girl that was once cast aside now has the freedom to pursue her dreams, develop her talents, and discover her passions. It is nothing short of a miracle.
I got to hold Noelle as we drove past Mount Longonot, Cornerstone Preparatory Academy, and the occasional zebra. But even these things looked plain compared to the beauty of the crowd of happy staff and kids that lined the driveway to Naomi’s Village and burst into song and dance as soon as they caught sight of Noelle’s face. We lifted up a multitude of hands, voices, and intertwined hearts as our precious little Christmas gift was passed out of the car and around her new family. It was love unbridled and joy untamable, so overwhelming and loud and arresting that I could only breathe deep and join humbly in. Noelle was paraded across the lawn and into Naomi’s Village like a long-awaited princess, and the sound of our celebration reverberated off of the walls of the Great Rift Valley as a proclamation of hope to our desperate community. Noelle was finally home.
It is only fitting that the sign hanging on the wall above her crib says, “Every day holds the possibility of a miracle.” That day held many miracles- a baby girl fulfilling a Christmas wish that we never even knew we had, love spilling out of little hearts that had once been so broken to fill up and welcome Noelle’s, and the transformation of a life from discarded to treasured. And all of this is because of another miracle, a baby boy born on a starry night in Bethlehem thousands of years ago and laid to sleep in a feeding trough. The redemption that happens at Naomi’s Village is only a shadow of what occurred when this boy grew up and fulfilled his purpose. This year, we celebrate this greatest of miracles in wide-eyed wonder with arms full of soft baby skin, pink bows, and beauty. Merry Christmas, from our ever-growing family to yours.
“He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted… The lowly he sets on high, and those who mourn are lifted to safety… So that the poor have hope and injustice shuts its mouth.” -Job 5:9,11,16