Admit it. They don’t make them any cuter than this. These are photos of four-year-old Ben in our hotel room in China just a few hours after meeting him for the first time, and then a shot of him today at church when the other kids were singing a birthday song to him. (Click on the photos to see them larger.) He turns 12 on Tuesday and will be moving on from Primary, which is the children’s meeting in our church that is equivalent to most Sunday Schools. In Primary, the kids take turns giving talks, and today was Ben’s last talk in Primary since it was his last Sunday there. He looked so handsome in his suit coat and he proudly signed a talk with the theme of “Jesus Christ is my Savior.”
I thought I was OK with all of this. After all, children grow up and move on into new stages of their lives. After they sang to him for his birthday, however, they asked him to share his favorite Primary song and they would sing it as today’s closing song. He chose “I am a Child of God.” I knew he would. After all, it has been his favorite song for years now and one of the few that he both signs and sings with gusto. They asked him to come back up to the front of the room and he signed it while we sang. Silly me…the tears started streaming and they wouldn’t stop.
As I watched him ever so handsome in his Sunday suit, I thought back to when he arrived home from China. He was exactly 4 1/2 years old, but due to having no language yet, we put him in the nursery with the 18 month to 3 year olds from October to about February. He had no concept of God or a Savior, but caught on quickly. He would restlessly pay attention as I signed the lesson which was only about 5 minutes long because none of the younger kids had much of an attention span either. He loved playing with the toys, and having known hunger in his 4 short years, he loved snack time even more. After only one week, he was quick to pick up on when snack time would start and was anxious to help out by putting out the little Dixie cups for water as well as the napkins on which a variety of tasty morsels of fresh fruit, cheese, or even mini muffins would be placed. Marshmallows were his favorite and he was quick to sign “more” whenever he finished his.
He was a bit disgruntled when we moved him on to the Sunbeam class, which consisted of children who are 3 turning 4 that year. After all, the lesson lasted much longer, and snack usually consisted of a handful of dry goldfish crackers as they tried to wean the Sunbeams off of needing food during class. He stayed with those children who were a year younger than he until he turned 8 and moved into Cub Scouts. Since he was moving up to a new set of peers for Tuesday’s den meeting, we moved him up in his Sunday class as well.
He will be interviewed by the Bishop soon and will become a deacon in the Aaronic Priesthood where he will be able to pass the sacrament each week, as well as collect fast offerings from church members on Fast Sunday–the first Sunday of each month. He is very excited about these opportunities and has told me for years “When I am 12, I can pass the bread and water to people at church.”
I’ve heard people talk of having a life review right before a serious accident or a frightening experience. My life didn’t flash before my eyes today as Ben stood and signed “I am a Child of God”, but his life did. The past 7 years since he joined our family suddenly seemed to have flown by too quickly. All of the times he has made me crazy with some of his impulsive behaviors seemed to be no longer important.
I know he will continue to give me gray hairs. Just tonight he overreacted in anger when he thought he was going to lose the game we were playing together as a family. In some ways he is still very immature for his age. At other times, however, when I look deep into his eyes, his spirit speaks to mine. Deep inside him is a beautiful, radiant spirit, that is sometimes trapped by the behaviors tied to his mood disorder and sensory issues.
Someday I know he will be healed of all of his “issues” and the sensitive and gentle spirit that shines forth at times now will no longer be hidden beneath the layers of a mental disorder. In spite of his difficulties, I love him with all my heart and the Spirit reaffirmed to me today that God loves him as well. Just as we sang today, he is a precious, beautiful child of God, who will someday shine forth as a valiant warrior for God and Christ. I thank God and Ben’s Chinese birth parents–wherever they may be—for blessing me with the gift of my son.