Tuesday, July 9, 2013

why you are where you are [part 2]

[I'm not afraid of getting a little vulnerable and messy. So here's a story about a very real, very important, very crucial chapter in our lives.]

Seven years ago, my sister - I'll call her Palindrome - said she had to go to Africa.

She was holding a magazine with a notice about mission trips to orphanages in Liberia. And this was what she was meant to do.

My parents have always been into equipping their kids and encouraging them to TAKETHEPLUNGE.

"You want to dye your hair blue? Sure. I like blue. It's a good color."

"You have a life dream of being a soapmaker, you say? Let's get started." [and that life-dream lasted all of 1 day.]

"You want to go to Africa? Go for it."
but wait -

"For TWO YEARS? Um, no."

So she went for two weeks instead and she met this girl, this girl who changed our lives. 

 D - and that's her alias here in the River, because even though her name is really Deborah I have always, always called her D and so nothing else fits here on this blog - was 14. She and Palindrome bonded instantly. On one of Palindrome's phone calls home, my mother talked briefly to D and loved her from the moment she heard her voice.
And, long story short: my parents tried to adopt D and there were obstacles from the very beginning. I stood in our community and asked for prayers - I have a sister in Liberia - and she needs to come home.

But it all fell through, and D went to another family, and our family's collective heart was broken and so very, very sad because this didn't seem like the way it was supposed to be. But a call is a call and sometimes life just doesn't look like what you thought it might. My parents were still willing to do what they always do, and that's welcoming children, even if it's different from who they thought it was going to be. So then they got these pictures:

And, longer story even shorter, my now-youngest two siblings came home.

They were home for all of 6 months when my parents got another call. It was from D's adoptive family. They were on the verge of disruption. That's adoption-speak for "Things REALLY AREN'T WORKING OUT and our family is being destroyed and if you don't take her, she's going back." 

[Disruption in adoption isn't a casual thing. It's a really big deal and my heart truly goes out to anybody who finds their family in this position, this place of seeing only darkness all day, every day. If that's you and you're reading this? You are not alone.]

So they got a call asking if they could take D. And smack in the middle of their own adoption-adjustment, they said yes, and she came. I was so angry the day she came. Not because she was here, but because of how she was dropped off. Her adoptive father laughed and joked in my parents' driveway and then formally signed over legal guardianship over pizza, smiling the whole time. Hearts are such fragile things, and you don't just hand over a hurting, angry one in a business transaction over a piece of dessert pizza.

D met her match in my parents. They are strong people, but tender people, and they are wise and humble and have a vision into heart-problems that is unmatched in anyone I've ever met. They rarely address what seems to be the issue but pray to see the root of it because usually the root of the real problem doesn't look anything like what's actually coming to the surface. But in working with the root, the whole plant is changed, and my parents know it. They're not perfect, and no parent is, but every imperfection is laid at the foot of the Cross. They live the gospel. In my parents D found a boxing ring of love, squaring off never as her adversary but as her ally and sometimes you need to ram yourself up against a boundary to find out how tough it is and if you're actually loved. My dad, probably quoting somebody else, likes to say that children ask 2 questions in all of their actions - "Do you love me?" and "Who's in charge?" and that those questions should always, always be answered, "Yes," and "I am." D found those questions answered in my parents and their thoughts were that they already had some grey hair, and what's a little bit more?

Conflicts and resolution were meted out on the orangey-brown couch in their living room. For the first of those conflicts - and there were many-, D sat with her face covered, all but her eyes, with couch pillows. Sometimes a couch pillow is all you can grab as a shield to protect you from the rejection you anticipate. That rejection didn't come, and never did, and with each conflict the couch pillow didn't come as far up on her face, and eventually she just held a pillow in her lap. My mother spent months working and walking and talking D through her anger, her hurt, her pain from her past and met each of those moments with bravery because my mom just doesn't back down from too much and she knows how to love hard and scrape away ugly layers. When I think about hurting, wounded people, sometimes I think they need a tough-nut who knows that healing doesn't come from just being pitied and sometimes real love is tough love and we're going to walk this dark road together until we find what's worth finding. Because that's what real compassion does that simple pity fails to do. My mom didn't pity D; she loved her...and they walked that dark road.

D found healing in my parents' home. And one day she found Jesus. My dad had the greatest privilege he could ask for - getting to baptize her.

And then there was a week almost 9 months into it when 3 people in our family all heard the same thing: It's time for her to go back. And my parents knew that the hard thing and the right thing were the same thing - and sat on their orangey-brown couch and she just sat there with the couch pillow in her lap this time, eyes brimming up and nodding.

So she went back. Her adoptive family kept in touch, because frankly, they were a little scared of her return. But they reported she was a changed girl. She was different. The change was authentic and undeniable. Their family was at peace. And I remember my mother showing some weakness to me and saying I just don't understand what that was all about and why it had to be that way. 

My mother claims I said something very brilliant to her at that point. It sounds vaguely familiar but at the same time I think, Wow, I said that? That's pretty good stuff. and I half-don't-believe it was actually me who said it. Anyway, I apparently said something like, Mom, if God is the master crafter we don't get to pick how he uses us. We don't get to pick what kind of handtool we get to be. Mom and Dad weren't her parents, but they were the handtool being used to reconcile her to the people who were.

D stayed in touch, and she came to Palindrome's wedding a year and a half ago, and there she met Lightning AND THAT'S NOT AN ALIAS, THAT'S ACTUALLY HIS NAME. Whoa-dang, right? Anyway, D and Lightning were both from the same orphanage in Liberia and all of our adoptive families are kind of in the same circle and so Lightning's family was at Palindrome's wedding too - and so he and D somehow managed to reconnect there.

Well, one thing led to another and Lightning and D got married last weekend. Her Liberian father managed to fly in to the States to be there for her. My own dad had an aisle seat as she walked by him between her adoptive and biological fathers and I don't think I've ever cried so much at any wedding as I did at hers.

 The officiant told their stories - of their adoptions and of  how they met, and now how they're here, and of their salvation and when he got to that part in D's story he said soberly, "Deborah, you said you had a rough patch for awhile and that's when you went to live with this family, and that's where you met Jesus and were baptized."

What's a story's resolution without the conflict in the first place, anyway? What's being found without knowing what it meant to be lost? So of course that was part of her wedding story. Of course that's what it was all about, and why it had to be that way, because there wasn't another way for it to be.

During the reception, I found D to grab a picture with her. She flung her arms around me and the hug was sweet. She has always been my sister and I've always referred to her as such. But as I held my hand out to Lightning, I didn't know what to say. Here, in her "real" family's front yard, I didn't know how to name our relationship. So, of course, I naturally fumbled.

"Hi. Congratulations. I'm so happy for you guys. I'm Corrie. I'm - well, I'm..."

D cut me off. "She's part of my story."

I turned to D. "Thank you - for what you included in the ceremony - about Mom and Dad..."

Her eyes glistened and a grin split across her face. "It's because of her that I am who I am. She's the reason I'm here today." 

I hate the 'why' questions, actually. Why did this happen, why didn't this happen, why did it shake out this way...as if there was really another Plan or a choose-your-own-ending. It was always the Plan. This. was. always. the. Plan. It was always going to be like this. 

But I burrow my face into the peace of knowing, gloriously, that because Palindrome went to Africa and met this girl that another family adopted her at the price of our pain. And because she didn't come to our family, my parents went through with adoption anyway and brought home two others who we wouldn't trade for the world. And because our names were on the table with D's adoption, her family knew who they could call when things weren't shaking out. And because she came here for that short time, she came back for Palindrome's wedding and met Lightning. My family's home was her rehab, her in-between, the place she found Jesus and healing and became a new person.

It's not the story we would have written, but it's not a story in which I would change a single detail. We're just hand-tools, after all. We don't get to pick what kind we get to be.


  1. Thank you for this true story about God and His loving intervention into the lives of His people.

    May He bless YOU for the honor you grant your parents, imperfect though they are. Amen

  2. I have parents like yours, and, like you, I know how blessed I am. Like you, I have been honored to share that blessing with people (mostly college students) from all over the world that came into our home for short times, needing a dose of what our family had. Some we have not seen again and others have stayed around, but all were changed by God's love shown through my parents. I pray my home will be that kind of peace for others.

  3. Read this story again this afternoon and teared up a little. What beautiful words.

  4. What can I say, I love, love, love, my family...I've learned much from their agape hearts, their enduring patience, commitment, acceptance, open arms, wisdom, perseverance, impenetrable faith...amazing grace, how sweet the sound.

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