When I'd written the last check for my daughter's wedding in Zambia, I breathed a sigh of relief. We'd always be their parents, but the kids were on their own. As we boarded the plane back to Ethiopia, where we are currently working, I was thinking about taking early retirement in a couple of years, back to the United States. I thought of sitting on my deck, watching the neighborhood kids play soccer in the field behind our house, listening to their happy voices before supper.
Plans have a way of changing, sometimes with just one unexpected conversation.
A couple of weeks before the wedding, we had learned of a brother and sister, AIDS orphans in Ethiopia. Somehow falling through the social service safety net, they had been living in an increasingly dangerous neighborhood all by themselves since their mother's death - three years before. The boy was now 12 and the girl 8, and a distant relative of theirs asked us if we could help her find a good orphanage (way overdue, I thought at the time).
Since our older children had been adopted, we were part of an informal network of adoptive parents, and after meeting these children - and seeing something special in their eyes - we put the word out through e-mails. Several friends and friends of friends wanted to adopt them, but something always seemed to go sadly awry.
The summer approached, when school would be out, and we learned that the children would be even more at risk. Already some men in the neighborhood had begun to look at the little girl in a predatory way, and we didn't want the boy to be at loose ends. We moved them into a part of our house we normally reserve for guests, invited the distant relative to stay, and told them we were their Auntie and Uncle and that we were looking for nice parents. But nothing was working out.
Meanwhile, we were falling in love with them for their cheerfulness, intelligence, and self-reliance. We contacted the social service people just to inform them that the children were safe and with us, and that we were trying to find adoptive parents. After all, I thought, I'm too old to go through this Daddy thing again. The social service people visited, looked at our interaction with the children, and, when they were out of earshot, suggested we be the ones to adopt since we obviously loved them and they had good rapport with us already.
Surely not. The next morning, as I was doing some Bible study, I prayed. I prayed that God would see the benefits of my plan and find good parents. I prayed that God would do my bidding! I reached for a copy of "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," the major work by the founder of this newspaper, Mary Baker Eddy. The book fell open to a reference to a story published in the British medical journal The Lancet about a woman who did not age: "Disappointed in love in her early years, she became insane and lost all account of time" (page 245). The passage goes on to describe how even when she was 74 (a relatively advanced age in the 19th century), she appeared to be a young woman.
I almost closed the book in frustration, but I realized I had actually been given what I needed. What was it? At the end of the page, I read this: "... the primary of that illustration makes it plain that decrepitude is not according to law, nor is it a necessity of nature, but an illusion."
I had accepted something about me that God didn't see, and that was the whole business about aging. My big excuse fell apart. God never did see me as getting old.
That night, the children, independently and without any prompting, casually referred to us as Papa and Mama. We realized that God had spoken to them, too.
"God setteth the solitary in families," promises the Bible (Ps. 68:6). While the adoption arrangements proceeded agonizingly slowly, we bonded as a family. Our older children lovingly accepted them. I can't imagine not having these wonderfully amazing children in our lives, and, while I didn't retire, I enjoy watching the neighborhood children playing soccer - and having them come home to us.
Thou art the helper
of the fatherless.