HATTIESBURG, Miss. (BP)--This Sunday, January 23, is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday for many churches in America. While it is something we recognize, and something we advocate for other people to respond to and make moral choices accordingly, the moment of choice is very rarely in our own hands.
I had that moment.
I was outside playing with the dog, and my husband, Joe, was doing housework on Monday, Oct. 11 last year when the home phone rang. We're digital people, and the home phone number only rings once in a while, usually with a prerecorded political message on the other end. But on this day, Joe opened the back door and handed me the second handset as he held the first, and said, "It's our adoption agent, Mary."
Mary went on to say how glad she was to catch us both at home on a weekday. She had news that she wanted to be able to give us together, and it wasn't going to be good news.
My heart stopped. On Aug. 10, we had accepted a referral for a set of twin girls in Russia that were a year old. In fact, we had all of our paperwork at the agency office being apostilled and translated to send to Russia by the end of that very week. We were only about three weeks from traveling to St. Petersburg to meet them for the first time. At this point in the process, it was still possible for a Russian family's request to adopt to trump our referral and take away this opportunity. I waited for this to be the next words out of Mary's mouth.
Instead, she said, "The girls were taken to a pediatrician for checkups. Olga checked out fine. But Diana is still so behind developmentally that they did some further tests with her, and they think she has cerebral palsy. There's no way of knowing as young as she is how severe this is going to be, and how it is going to affect her in the long run. Take some time. Take a week to think about it, to talk to pediatricians or specialists. Talk to your social worker. And then you can let us know what you want to do."
"What do you mean? What we want to do?"
"You can ask for a new referral if you want to wait for another set of siblings. Or you can just take Olga. The ministry of education will probably separate the girls' registrations so at least Olga will have a chance at a normal life, because a Russian family will not adopt a child with special needs. Or you can take them both."
My interpretation of what she was saying was that if the girls were going to get to stay together, we were their only chance for this. Otherwise, they would be separated. I asked what kind of care Diana could possibly receive with her needs. My thoughts, based on 20/20 reports on orphanages, were that she would be stuck in a crib with little stimulation, little therapy, little chance at normalcy.
As a teacher, I had seen varying spectrums of children with cerebral palsy, from the mildest to the most severe. And I loved those children. They loved my room, because they got to hold instruments, squeal and squeak and wiggle. I have even square danced with a little girl in a motorized wheelchair. I knew that we could do something to help Diana beyond anything they could do at the orphanage, as positively as our agent put things. She told me not to feel guilty if we chose to only take Olga, because Diana would get great care: "Of course, nothing compares to what would happen if she were with a family."
So here was our moment of choice. Take the healthy one, take them both, or wait for a new referral.
Mary hung up and left us with our thoughts. Joe and I sat on the couch, and I cried while he prayed for the courage to do what we knew in our hearts was right by God's Word and by our own convictions. Had we been pregnant and heard this news, we'd see that pregnancy through and love that child and provide everything she needed to thrive to her fullest potential. Our decision was made immediately. The prayers and thoughts that came after that phone call with Mary were for courage, for provision, for understanding of people who would be involved in her care.
We called the babysitter we had lined up and informed her. We called our friends who would be their guardians in the event something happened to us. We called our pastor and his wife to come over and pray with us. We had such a support network that we only had to let people know to pray, and the peace that we were seeking guarded our hearts from any doubts that began to creep in.
After four weeks of visits, court appointments, and paperwork being filled out in Russia, we came back to our hotel room in Moscow after our exit interview at the U.S. Embassy. It was nap time for the girls, and I held a sleepy Russian princess in my arms. Diana, now Anna Claire, nestled into the crook of my elbow and pulled her little balled up hand to her face as she closed her eyes to sleep. I sat by the window watching snow fall, and let the tears flow freely. Joe walked over and touched my shoulder.
"Is everything OK?"
"We could have missed this," I said.
But by the grace of God, the prayers of His people, and the guidance of His Word, we didn't. We jumped in courageously to accept the chance to love a little girl who may take more effort, more money, more time, and more patience to raise because we believed her life, like the life of all children, of all senior adults, of all marginalized people, is precious to her Heavenly Father. And she's pretty precious to us, too.
January 25, 2011
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Joanna Miley King lives in Hattiesburg, Miss. Her husband is student minister at Immanuel Baptist Church in Hattiesburg. Visit their website, www.lovelylittlefootsteps.com.