Monday, July 27, 2009

Widows and Orphans

Having coordinated ten Lighthouse Project trips, I’ve heard every excuse in the book for not hosting. Some reasons are legitimate, some less so. A caller once claimed she couldn’t host because the trip was coming up too soon. Next time she had a few months’ notice, but she couldn’t plan that far ahead. I tire of the charade; sometimes I wish people would just say they’re not interested.

Copious notes taken during the course of myriad phone conversations show I can expect to speak with ten callers to come up with one host family. While I try not to judge callers’ decisions, it appears many people choose not to host when they reasonably could. Others can reasonably host, and do. But my favorite callers have good reasons not to host, and choose to anyway. They understand they can make a difference in the life of a child, and whatever legitimate excuse they might have voiced is silenced by this more substantial realization.

Justine called me for the first time one morning when I was in Missouri with the Lighthouse Project. Running late for Vacation Bible School, I begged out, asking if I could call her later in the day when I had time to do the conversation justice. She agreed, but I fretted all day that her first impression of my availability might discourage her from hosting. Back in my hotel room that evening, we spoke. As she shared her story, I was relieved to find it would take more than a conversation deferred to discourage her.

Justine had always wanted to adopt. She and her husband discussed it, opting to pursue it after they’d had biological children. Son Alden arrived. Two and a half years later she was eight months along in a pregnancy when her husband fell ill; one day later, he died of complications related to diabetes. Justine was left to deliver daughter Lilly alone.

She grieved, but found the hardest part was the demise of her dream of a large family. Over time, she began researching adoption online. Hong Kong stood out based on cost and openness to single mothers, but almost all available children had moderate to severe special needs. Justine decided to wait, believing Hong Kong was not in her future. She bought a house, her parents bought next door, and she began home schooling. Life was good again; she was content and hoping for no changes.

But two years ago, she began a word study of every use of “widow” in the Bible. As the months passed, she handwrote most Biblical references to the subject. God’s concern for widows clarified, she discovered that in almost every passage, orphans, too, received specific mention as recipients of God’s special compassion. Within a year, God rekindled her desire to adopt; Hong Kong was her clear directive. As she shared her plan with her children, family, and friends, she found unanimous support.

Beginning her home study, she hoped to adopt a child between the ages of Alden, now 9, and Lilly, now 6. Her agency balked at her plan to adopt out of birth order, preferring that she make her new child the youngest. Justine was open to physical needs like blindness or cerebral palsy; Down syndrome was on the list of special needs she did not expect to consider. But scanning a list of Hong Kong’s waiting children, an eight-year-old boy with Down syndrome tugged at her heart. Already traveling a circuitous path, both Justine and her agency altered course. The agency allowed her to sandwich a child between her two biological children, and Justine realized the little boy she’d seen with Down syndrome was her son. Wondering why such a precious soul waited alone over eight years, she concluded he was “just reserved for our family.”

In November 2008, Justine heard about the Lighthouse Project trip through a friend’s blog. She hoped to host next time in Tulsa, but we were already in town for the January 2009 trip before she was aware of it. When she got word that we’d be returning to Tulsa a third time, her initial reaction was dismay since she obviously couldn’t host in the middle of her adoption. She might need for her own adoption the $1000 it cost to host a child. Worse, if she hosted, she’d fall in love, want to adopt, and be unable due to Hong Kong law prohibiting concurrent adoptions through other sources. God reminded her she had $1076 in a memorial fund in her husband’s name, and brought conviction that her reason not to host was flimsy. Would she let a child stay in a dismal orphanage with a hopeless future because she might be hurt if she opened her heart? She had the money, and she had the time. The only issue was fear of emotional injury. All the while, God was asking, “How selfish can you be?”

Not very, as it turns out. Justine did call as I flew out the Missouri door toward VBS, and she was still polite when I finally called her back over twelve hours later. When she told me about her special needs adoption, needing to fund her own process, single parenthood, and busyness home schooling, I knew her excuse for not hosting would be more watertight than most. Remarkably, after listening to all the obstacles and mentally rehearsing my speech for when she would end, “God bless you, but I can’t host,” those words never came. Instead, she matter-of-factly told me her husband’s memorial fund had waited for just such a time, she planned to host, and to send her the details. Justine had enough potential excuses to fuel several of my callers who decline to open their homes; she didn’t use even one, choosing to give a little of herself to give a second child a chance at a future. “I’m just going to follow God’s leading,” she declared.

As I struggle to find hosts for kids for whom precious little hope exists outside traveling on such a trip, Justine sends out e-mails to her friends, asking them to consider hosting a child alongside her. She lamented tonight that she hadn’t yet found anyone. Meanwhile, her “yes” is far more moral support for this discouraged coordinator than all the “God bless you”s with which I’ve ever been rejected while promoting the Lighthouse Project.

Oh, that enough families would follow God’s leading so that none of our sixteen Lighthouse Project kids have to stay behind in Russia, staring down hopelessness! God can bless, and I trust He will, but it happens through people who, like Justine, put others before themselves to be part of that blessing.