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Intersection of Life and Faith

From Tragedy to Triumph: Lee Ezell's Story of Adoption and Reunion

  • Dan Wooding Founder of ASSIST Ministries
  • 2007 2 Feb
  • COMMENTS
From Tragedy to Triumph: Lee Ezell's Story of Adoption and Reunion

ORANGE COUNTY, CA (ANS) -- In his latest feature, Dan Wooding interviews Lee Ezell who, after suffering a brutal rape, discovered she was pregnant. She chose to give up her child for adoption and, twenty years later, she received an unexpected phone call that brought Lee and her daughter Julie together again for a remarkable friendship that was bonded together by their faith in Jesus Christ. Lee Ezell is a remarkable woman who has turned her pain into victory. But it has been quite a struggle for her, even from her early days.

“The inner-city area of Philadelphia in which I was raised had many challenges,” she said in an interview. “Both my mother and father were alcoholics, and I was born as one of their five daughters. I imagine I was a great disappointment to my dad as he looked forward to Lee, his son, and let me know I was an unwanted child. My father lived mostly in the basement of our home (which was plastered with pornographic pictures), and he would emerge in great fits of anger. We were battered and abused, and domestic violence calls were the norm.”

Lee explained that there was no religious influence in her early days. “We practiced no religion in my family, really, and the whole religion thing was confusing to me anyway,” she said. “But one night, I noticed an ad for a Billy Graham Crusade at the convention center in downtown Philly; I thought this would surely be good for a few laughs. And because we did not have a fourth for pinochle (honestly), three of us went to the meeting to check it out. Sitting way up in the peanut gallery, I thought the best thing was hearing that grand old Gospel singer Ethel Waters as she belted out a new song (to me) entitled 'His Eye is On the Sparrow'. My heart began to soften.

“By the time Dr. Graham spoke, I was impressed with how confident he seemed in what he had to say. And as he went through the Bible, I understood this was not just his personal philosophy or opinion. Apparently his confidence came from the scriptures he read which so clearly showed me that no one can get religion from their parents (as I thought), because God has no grandchildren. And he was clear that you don't get 'it' just by spending time in church (if I lived in a garage would that make me a car?).

“I could see it clear as day; becoming a Christian could only be an individual transaction between Christ and me. And though no one else would join me, I ran down those steps to the front, anxious to receive this Divine Implant, this incorruptible seed inside my heart. After tearfully praying the simple prayer, I instinctively knew it 'took' and things would be different for me now.

“But conditions at my abusive home had not changed. I was beginning to learn that God is not a fairy godfather in the sky who waves his magic wand and makes everything right for his children. No rose garden is promised. So as I graduated from high school at age 17, I took a bus to the West Coast 'cause all those beautiful California people I'd seen on TV looked so wonderful (from a distance!)”.

Lee found an apartment in San Francisco with her mother and two little sisters, and started in on her first job nearby as a typist.

That Fateful Night

“I was faithfully filling out my 'follow-up' Bible studies from the Graham organization, and was finally becoming familiar with God through His Word,” she said. “I couldn't figure out which kind of a church was in line with what I was learning, so I just stuck with my Graham studies; I felt like a whole new life was opening up for me -- until that fateful night I was raped. “I had met this salesman at work in the morning, and he would rape me that night. A large and overpowering man, at least 20 years my senior, I was in shock. Only others who have been victims of sexual assault can relate to the shock and trauma I experienced. But as I escaped that night I promised myself I'd go to my grave with this secret. I couldn't let anyone know that I was a loser. Typically, this victim felt guilty.

“I returned to work the next morning, never to see the man again. I began my process of pretending that everything was OK, although I was dying inside. I felt so sick emotionally and physically that I finally wound up at the doctor for a flu shot. When he told me I was pregnant, I resisted and argued. I had been a virgin teenager, and at 18 could not imagine being an unwanted child now pregnant with an unwanted child. This was inconceivable. How could God let this happen to me?

“When I mustered the courage to tell my mother I was pregnant, she could not handle it, and told me to leave and just come back when it was all 'over.' My girlfriend who knew what happened to me offered to help. She knew this baby would 'mess up my whole life' and offered to take me to Mexico for an abortion. She had helped her cousin get one there, and she said it wasn't all that bad. Oh, how I thank God that there was not available to me a Planned Parenthood Clinic on some corner where I could have been tempted to go and 'get rid of this problem'. Because it was not easily available, I had time to consider my options, and time to seek God. Today I have many friends who have had an abortion; they have a missing piece in their lives too. I'm so grateful the work of Christ on the Cross provides forgiveness and restoration for them as well!

“So with $50 in my pocket, I began driving my green VW down the West Coast toward Los Angeles, not being sure where I'd wind up. “During those tearful travel days I felt so confused. Each night I'd drop by a broken down motel, and would desperately flip through the pages of the Gideon Bible that would always be in some drawer (thank God!) Happening upon King David's shocking words in Psalm 139 (vs. 13-16) made an impact on me. If the Bible was true (and I was hanging my life on it), then apparently I was not an unwanted child, as my father told me. I was just an unplanned pregnancy.

Abortion “Too Permanent an Answer...”

“It was so clear that the decision of life is in God's hands, and it dawned on me then that there is no such thing as an 'illegitimate child.' Even though a couple may decide when to make love, apparently God decides when to make life! Now I was sure abortion was too permanent an answer for a temporary problem. My soul felt fueled for the long haul!”

So Lee decided to move to Los Angeles. “I knew some shirttail relatives in Los Angeles, and was hoping for some support system from them, which never materialized,” she went on. “So I began searching for a church in the yellow pages and found one in the beach area south of Los Angeles. When I saw the church advertising 'a commitment to Christ and the Word of God' I knew that lined up with Dr. Graham's thinking, and started attending there. I swallowed my pride (though it looked like I'd swallowed a watermelon) and became active in the singles group. One Sun. AM a sweet couple from the south who were greeters in the lobby took me aside. They said, 'We've been watchin' you, Lee, darlin', and we're fixin' to ask on y'all to come move in with us. I'll bet you could use a square meal and a decent place to stay.' Mom and Dad Croft had never been the type to just say 'be warmed and be filled' when they observed a need, but they were a practical, compassionate Christian couple. What a joy to spend the last of my pregnancy in their warm company and counsel.

“Like any birthmother, the bonding was taking place, and I wanted the best for my child. I hope any adopted child will one day come to realize that their birthmother did not reject them -- or she would have taken 'the easy way out' (as the pro choice folks call abortion). No, out of love she gave life. (Adoptees? remember you are not illegitimate -- you were loved!) I decided the best thing I could do for my child would be to have it adopted out at birth, and signed up with Los Angeles County Adoptions to relinquish my child. This baby girl would be born in an L. A. County Hospital on February 11, 1964, although I never got to see or hold her. I was simply told I'd given birth to a healthy baby girl; sign here. How could I have ever imagined she would be the only child I would ever give birth to? I would always think of her as the 'missing piece' of my life.”

Eventually Lee met Hal Ezell, who was to become her husband. “Because I was distrustful of men in general, I waited until I was 29 to marry,” she explained. “I met Hal Ezell at a Bible Conference, and it was love at first sight. Ironically Hal had two daughters, and yes, I would wind up in a L.A. County Adoptions court adopting them-Pam (14) and Sandi (10). Strangely enough I would be Hal's third wife, though he had never been divorced. Both his former wives died with cancer.”

I then asked Lee if, over the years, she had wondered what had happened to her daughter. “Through the years of being an adoptive mom I was wishing for the girls I was raising to call me 'mom', although I wasn't their biological mother. And I hoped my own birth daughter would do the same with her adoptive folks,” she said. “My husband Hal would be the one to periodically prod me to begin a search for my birth daughter. But I was firm in believing that God would be faithful to keep that which I committed unto Him. (II Timothy 1:12). Surely God would have to intervene to open California's closed adoption records and permit a reunion, and I had peace to leave this decision up to God's discretion. I had no clue how this could ever be accomplished. And as one who was on both sides of the adoption issue (having relinquished for adoption and having adopted 2 children), I didn't want to interfere with my birth daughter's raising.”

Lee soon found life become electrifying when Hal was appointed the Western Regional Director for the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). “We had some exciting years together as a family, especially after my husband was appointed by the Reagan Administration as Regional Commissioner for Immigration (INS),” she said. “We had years filled with controversy and challenge, as Hal actively took his stand against illegal immigration. His profile was high in the media, and our home and office were occasionally picketed-even including a bomb threat by extremist pro-illegal immigrant groups. My husband Hal considered it his military service, and even hazardous duty!”

The Fateful Phone Call

In the midst of all this public exposure, Lee received an unexpected phone call from the dear elderly couple who took her in when she was pregnant, the Crofts. “They told me they'd received a phone call and a letter 'from your baby, honey-and she's lookin' for y'all.' As I dialed the phone number they gave me, what a shock it was to hear the voice of 'the missing piece' of the puzzle of my own life. This gal, Julie Makimaa, living in Michigan, methodically told me she had two motivations for trying to seek me out and find me. One was to let me know I was a grandmother! And her second motivation was even sweeter than the first to me: she tried to lead me to Christ over the phone. I was riveted to my seat. (But I must admit I just let her go on to see if she knew what she was doing!) What a thrill it was to tell her that she had already led me to walk with Christ many years ago, as I discovered that although life is not fair, God is just.

“I was determined that Julie would not find out about her conception through rape. But it was so important to my husband that Julie understood this that he privately chatted on the phone with Julie's husband Bob, telling him the circumstances surrounding her conception. Bob's reaction was simply: 'Wow...to think that is what happened more than 20 years ago just to give me Julie!'

“The first time we got a glimpse at each other, I know we were both so nervous. Would she like me? What would she look like? And typically, adoptees are risking being rejected again. But as she walked through the door, a mirrored image of myself, we were in awe. The first words she said, as she passed me a baby, was 'now go to your grandma'. Her husband Bob Makimaa waited his turn and then stretched out his long arm to say 'I want to shake your hand, Lee: thank you for not aborting Julie. I can't imagine what my life would be like without Julie and children.' At that first reunion, Julie would urge me to write our story, to encourage any others who have unanswered questions in life. The title of this book is 'The Missing Piece' (Servant Press), which is now in 14 different languages. There is also a video - distributed by Vision Video -- of the same title and both the book and video are available at Christian bookstores.

Today, Lee is in close contact with Julie and her two teenage grandchildren. “Julie and Bob, and children Casey and Herb, still live in Michigan. Julie has become a frequent speaker at pro life and pro family events around the country. (But our very favorite thing is to share our story in tandem!) Our experiences in the lion's den-on many of the national TV talk shows -- (Geraldo, Sally, etc.) -- have made us seasoned veterans in answering the hard questions. Julie will readily admit, 'Yes, I am the result of rape, but I am so glad I did not get the death penalty for the crime of my father! After all, it doesn't matter how you begin in life, but what you become.'“

Hal Ezell passed away suddenly in 1998 from cancer and a moving memorial service was held for him at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, which received wide media coverage. “A few days before he died, he secretly made me a videotape. (What a treasure for me!) On it he left me a legacy, blessed my ministry, prayed for me, and encouraged me to keep on telling the story of my reunion with Julie to exhibit God's faithfulness in the worst of situations.

“He said 'tell the folks God can take the worst thing that has happened to you in your life, and turn it into the best thing that's ever happened to you in your life.' I am so grateful to have learned this lesson, as shortly after Hal's death I would be fighting my own battle with cancer (as a widow now), and am finally on the other side of this struggle.'“ (Lee's latest book entitled, “Finding God When Life's Not Fair?” (Revell) deals with such unanswered questions).

Lee is still busy speaking all over the world and continues to write books. “Writing is tough for me; it's a discipline I am learning, but the encouragement I receive to continue writing and speaking comes from the testimonies of lives changed by the honest ramblings of a fellow struggler who is seeking to interpret God in the midst of difficulties,” she said.

These published titles include: The Missing Piece, The Cinderella Syndrome, Will the Real Me Please Stand Up, Pills for Parents in Pain (Longwood Comm.), Porcupine People, and Iron Jane.

I concluded by asking Lee what her message was to girls today who are pregnant and who are contemplating abortion? How can the Church get more involved in helping this situation? Do you agree with protesting outside of abortion clinics?

“For anyone who may be facing a crisis pregnancy today, I would encourage you to seek full disclosure on your situation,” she said. “This information is not disseminated in the 'pro choice' clinics; you are offered no choice. Thank God for the network of Crisis Pregnancy Centers around the country who are working in the trenches to make the truth of the sanctity of life known. These dedicated warriors not only save the lives of many unborn babies, but also provide extensively for the care and nurturing of the birthmother, whether she keeps or relinquishes the baby for adoption.

My prayer is that more and more churches will take their Biblical stand for life, and support these wonderful life-saving works. As to those who protest before these abortion clinics, my prayer is that the police will be able to tell the difference between the two sides! That those who stand for the truth will do so with a compassionate spirit so Jesus' words will be fulfilled 'By this shall all men know that you are My disciples: if you have love.' (John 13:35)

To contact Lee Ezell for speaking engagements or to encourage her, you can e-mail her at leeezell@aol.com or write Lee Ezell, P.O. Box 80848, (RSM) Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688) USA. Phone: 949-709-8005 or Fax: 949-709-2207.

Dan Wooding is an award winning British journalist now living in Southern California with his wife Norma. He is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS). He was, for ten years, a commentator, on the UPI Radio Network in Washington, DC. Wooding is the author of some 42 books, the latest of which is his autobiography, "From Tabloid to Truth", which is published by Theatron Books. To order a copy, go to www.fromtabloidtotruth.com. danjuma1@aol.com.

 © 2007 ASSIST News Service, used with permission