For years now I have had the privilege of being on the ‘receiving side’ of adoption.
I have seen children who were sick, children who were starving, and children who had no one be placed into a loving family where there they found hope, safety and love.
I have heard story after story about the lengthy process the adoptive family has gone through to bring that child home to their forever family. I have been there myself. I have fundraised, prayed, and advocated for these families as well as for our own.
I fell in love with adoption. And that will never change. The need is great- the need is real. Adoption changes lives.
And yet what I learned yesterday was something I never let myself think much about before…how every adoption costs a great deal- not only monetarily, but in other ways as well.
In Guatemala, word of mouth travels quickly. People around here have begun to hear about Village of Hope. They have heard that people care here- heard that people are willing help-and for many, that is a first.
And so it was yesterday, while our kids were out playing baseball, Addisyn came running inside asking me to come quickly. Out of breath she explained to me that there was a woman outside who needed help. As I ran up the driveway I saw her standing there. She seemed small, timid and afraid- a look of desperation masked her face. She had bruises up and down her arms and tears in her eyes. She quickly glanced around to see if anyone was watching and then she began to explain in a rushed voice. Her husband of 16 years had brought home a new woman. They were physically and verbally abusive to her and her three children. She had asked her husband for money to purchase school supplies for her children (the new school year here in Guatemala has just begun) and he became angry and beat her- once again. She explained her desired for her children to have an education but that her husband wanted her oldest son, age 13, to no longer attend school and instead to work collecting money on the bus route he drove every day. She said she heard we might be able to help her with school supplies for her children.
We ushered her inside and began to talk more. We quickly learned how severe the abuse has been and we realized how desperately she needed help- help that looked a whole lot different than just handing over some pencils, crayons and notebooks.
Down deep inside I wanted to scream, I wanted to cry, and I wanted to run. I wanted to run from the pain this woman if facing. I wanted to scream and ask God why there are people whose biggest worries in this world are if their nail polish matches their shirt, people who throw a fit if their steak is not cooked just right at their favorite restaurant, people who complain if they have to wait at a red light too long. I wanted to cry for justice. But more than anything, I wanted to be able to understand.
As we sat and talked, Dora began to share more of her story. She explained that she had worked really hard last year hoping for a better life and how she could now read letters and numbers and we both smiled. She told us she knew how to cook tamales and tortillas and was sometimes able to make those to sell- when she had the money to buy the supplies to do so. Yet having the money to buy the supplies meant having to ask her husband for help- who would then beat her. Her mother was elderly and not in good health, her father had passed away some years ago. She did have a brother who was kind to her and helped as he could- but he was having a hard time right now taking care of his own wife and children. The tiny tin home she lived in belonged to her father in law and she and her three children were surrounded by her husband’s family who were verbally and physically abusive. No one cared and there was no one to help her find a way out. She had been given few choices in life- she could stay and continue to be abused, leave and end up on the dangerous streets of Guatemala begging or who knows what else to try to get enough money to eat, or put her children in an orphanage where they would at least be safe and fed.
It was then that she looked me in the eyes and asked if we would allow her children to live at Village of Hope. Her beloved treasures. The children she brought into this world and loved more than anything in this world. The only things she was living for- and the thing she was willing to die for.
As a mommy this was something I couldn’t fathom. Something that had never even crossed my mind. Because you see, this wasn’t what my world looked like. I didn’t give children away- I took them in. I celebrated when children were placed in their new families. We make banners that read “WELCOME HOME” and we cry at the airport when the child arrives. We have baby showers and parties. We celebrate Gotcha Days and we cry when watching video from the day our children arrived. We wear t-shirts that said “Adoption Rocks.”
And what I suddenly realized was I had become so focused on the fund raising, so focused on waiting for our I171H to come in the mail, so focused on making sure there wasn’t a mistake on our dossier, and so focused on the $$ signs we needed to bring our child home- that I forgot about the greatest cost of all.
And I couldn’t help but to stop and ask myself, “Would I have put that much effort, that much work, given that much money, and advocated as much- to help that child stay in the family they were born into?”
As I watched the tears once again slide down Dora’s face, as I watched her children cling to her side- God opened my eyes in a way that will forever change me.
And I am thankful.
Here in front of me, sat a family with literally nothing to their name. They had no idea where their next meal would come from or where they would lay their heads down to sleep that night. The only thing that really mattered to them was each other and so they sat clinging to the hope that God would someone allow them to still be a together.
I fought so hard to bring our adopted children home- but this time I fought even harder for this woman to be able to keep hers.
After several phone calls we finally heard about a facility that was about an hour away. We packed a backpack for each of them with a pair of shoes, a couple changes of clothes and a toothbrush. Dora packed up all she owned in this world, a few pieces of clothing, some important papers, a picture of her mother- and we headed out the door.
The drive was long. Pollution filled the air and cars whizzed by as Dora and her children sat quietly in the back seat without a clue what was ahead. I kept my eyes on the dusty, bumpy road ahead of me and I silently prayed…
It was then from the back seat I heard my 16 year old son, Kallan, whisper to Dora’s oldest son, “Here buddy- this is for you… you are going to need this more than I do now”.
You see, when Kallan turned 13 – the same age as Dora’s oldest son, I had taken him on a mommy/son date. That day I had given him a ring I purchased from the local Christian store that had the word 'STRENGTH' engraved on it. I had explained to him that with all of the things young men face now a day he would have to remain strong in the Lord. He would have to stand on the word and trust that when he didn’t have the answers, when He couldn’t do it on his own- that God would be right by his side. I explained that life was hard, that things would be thrown at him, temptations, hardships, and loss- and when those times came-the Lord would carry Him through.
As the tears slide down my face, I realized how wise our God is. I had no idea this ring would one day end up on the hand of a little boy across the world who would need it even more than my son- but I have no doubt in my mind that the Lord did.
As we pulled up in front of a huge black gate, a security guard peered out a tiny window on the door and then opened it and stepped out. We quickly explained Doras situation. Without a word he disappeared and several minutes later a woman who appeared to be in her mid-50’s and dressed in typical Mayan clothing opened the door and began talking in Spanish. Without showing much emotion she asked how many children Dora had and what their ages and sex were while Dora and her 3 kids clung to each other in the backseat. It took over and hour to get to our destination, it took less than 5 seconds for us to find out they would not be allowed into the program. The woman explained that it was over a month long process for them to accept a new family and besides, they would never take in a 13 year old child.
Needless to say, we were all crushed.
Back on the road again, we made a stop for some food when I realized Dora and her children hadn’t eaten yet that day. You see, in my spoiled rotten world it was 3:30 in the afternoon- I had already fed my family two meals and somewhere in between a snack. Sometimes I forget, and most of the time- I take the simple things in life for granted.
As we headed down the highway making phone call after phone call asking for help from practically everyone we knew, Dora and her children eagerly ate their sandwiches and drank their bottled water in the back seat. Each lead- ended up a dead end. The few ministries we did find that helped woman like Dora were either full, had lengthy processes to be accepted, or else wouldn’t take in a 13 year old child (even though he was the size of most 8 year olds).
By the time we arrived back at Village of Hope we were weary and felt completely defeated. More phone calls- all dead ends, more prayers-all seeming to go unanswered. We quickly busied the children putting together puzzles while Dora clung to the little hope she had left that lay between the four walls of Village of Hope. I wanted more than anything in this world to take them in here, to keep them safe and sound. The problem is, Village of Hope has no security what so ever yet. No security wall and no guard. Dora explained that her husband would be looking for them, he would come after them- and he lived just over the side of the hill. Having them stay with us would put our family in danger and the ministry in danger- because her husband was an evil, evil man.
I realized like never before how large the gap was between ministries. There are orphanages for child to go, there are educational programs and even health programs around- all good, all needed and all important stuff. But there were few emergency programs for abused and desperate woman with children who needed a fresh start.
What are you trying to tell me Lord? What are we to do now?
With no more options left, we began to pray. Dora suddenly lifted her head and said, “There is a lady who attended our church, she may have room for us to sleep tonight, and perhaps we could try there?” One last phone call and the woman agreed. We quickly helped Dora and her children put on an extra layer of clothing, hugged them all tightly and watched helplessly as they headed out into the dark of the night and up the side of the mountain.
And then, I wept like never before.
I wept for the brokenness of this world. I wept for the children. I wept for the moms who were given no choice. I wept for the gaps in the systems we have created. I wanted to scream and I wanted to beg God to intervene- and then I realized he had. In a single woman. In the eyes of the world she didn't appear to have much to offer. And yet in the eyes of God, she was His hands and feet. She gave the little she had- an extra bed and an open door.
The next morning Dora and her children came back. We hugged and cried once again. We praised God for keeping them safe and keeping them together one more day. She was smiling as explained to me that she and this woman talked long into the night. The woman agreed to let them come and live there. Dora said she just knew God had this planned all along. She was beaming with joy- because she had found hope.
We both knew she would still needed to find work, she would still need school supplies, and beds - yet it all seemed so minimal in comparison to keeping her children.
Before Dora left for the day I asked her how I could be specifically praying. She looked down, staring at her hands for what seemed like hours, then she quietly whispered, “May I have a piece of paper?” Struggling to form the letters she had just recently learned to write, she wrote down the names of those who had been unkind to her....
Our eyes met and in that instant, my entire world changed.
I love adoption. I am thankful for adoption. Adoption saves lives. I believe adoption is the heart of God. But I am also thankful that God allowed us to walk along with journey with Dora so that we could understand in a way we didn’t before.
There are 160,000+ orphans in this world. I have no idea how many Dora’s there are out there. My prayer is that the church rises up and does what she was meant to do. Whether that is adopting an orphan, coming alongside a birthmother who needs a little help, raising our sons to be Godly men, giving, advocating, or living our life with a purpose greater than the American dream. Because when we do- people like Dora and her children have hope. People like Dora have a chance. And maybe, just maybe, there would be orphans no more.