Crushed chocolate cookies

Foster childDing dong!

“There he is.” I smiled at Craig as I finished placing the freshly baked chocolate cookies on a plate. We walked to the front door together.

“Hello, Mr. White. Mrs. White. Good to see you.” The social worker placed his hand on the child beside him. “This is Benny.”

The boy stared down at his sneakers, which seemed too big for his body. He held a sagging plastic bag.

I kneeled down. “Hi Benny, I’m Karen. I’m so glad you’re here.” He avoided my eyes. When I touched his arm, he stiffened. For a second, I feared he would bolt.

“Please, come in.” Craig’s invitation reduced the tension of the first contact with our eight-year-old foster child. We were to be his third family in the four years since he saw his mom die from an overdose, and we were determined to be the last.

While Craig and the social worker completed paperwork, Benny sat on the edge of the couch, still studying his shoes and clutching his bag.

“I made chocolate cookies; do you want to try one?” I held out the plate.

After what seemed an eternity, he raised his hand, grabbed three cookies, and stuffed them in the pocket of his hoodie.

I cleared my throat. “Okay, these are for later. Why don’t you take another one for now?”

He shot me a glance, then took one more.

Craig saw the social worker to the door and came back with a ball and glove. “Hey Ben, would you like to play catch?”

“Sure.” The last cookie disappeared in his pocket.

From the window, I watched Benny trudge alongside Craig to the playground. Looks like a good start. I turned around to see his bag lying on the floor. I was about to bring it to his room when I thought better of it. We’ll do that together.

By the time Craig and Benny returned, I had started cooking, and food aromas filled the house. “Drumsticks and French fries—I hope you like it.”

Benny slumped into a chair.

“Honey, please, wash your hands first. Craig, can you show Benny the bathr—”

“Nooo!”

I almost dropped a dish as Benny sent the chair crashing to the floor.

“I hate you! I hate you!”

“Benny, what’s wrong?”

Craig reached for the boy, but Benny slapped him, ran to the couch, and seized his bag. “I won’t stay here! Tell Social Services to get me!”

“They’re closed at this hour, Benny. Why don’t you come and eat something?”

“No! I hate you!” He whacked the couch.

“You want to see your room?” Craig tried to distract him.

“I want to leave!” Tears streamed down his contorted face.

“We’ll see about that tomorrow. But if you don’t want to eat, I’ll bring you to your room so that you can sleep.” Craig picked him up, seemingly immune to the yelling and frantic kicking.

I followed them upstairs. When Craig put him down, Benny threw himself on the bed—shoes and all—and hid under the blankets, crying all the while.

Craig whispered, “I’ll eat something, then leave for my night shift. I’ll pray.”

The next moment, I found myself standing alone in the middle of the bedroom, its bright colors shouting failure.

God, I need You.

I sat down at the bedside and laid my hand on the crumpled heap of a child.

“Leave me alone!” He wriggled away from me.

“No, Benny, I won’t go anywhere when you’re so sad and upset. I’ll stay right here with you.”

The leering racing car on the bedspread seemed to mock me as I waited and prayed for a breakthrough. Finally, the sobs subsided.

Following a hunch, I asked, “Benny…may I hold you? I mean—like a baby?”

To my surprise, he pushed back the blankets and climbed on my lap. I held him in my arms and gently rocked him, until his body relaxed and he was fast asleep.

Carefully, I took off his shoes and pulled down the covers—revealing crushed chocolate cookies. I couldn’t help but smile as I wiped them from the bed and tucked Benny in. Then I bent down and planted a kiss on his forehead.

Dear Father, You loved us before we loved You. Please, now help us to love this child. Even if our love will be crushed…like a chocolate cookie, under the weight of his pain, we want to persist in loving him. Amen.

***

AUTHOR’S NOTES

This short fiction story was inspired by:

• “Removed,” a short film about foster care. See www.removedfilm.com and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lOeQUwdAjE0.

• An newspaper article about foster care. See http://www.volkskrant.nl/binnenland/verwaarloosde-en-misbruikte-kinderen-wie-helpt-ze-nog~a3889487/

Karen’s prayer refers to the following Bible verse: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10 ESV).

photo credit: via photopin (license)

 

My Treasure

Red Necklace

“A precious stone,” the owner of the souvenir shop had assured me. I loved the shiny pendant, so we spent our last birrs on the necklace before flying back home. Now the fading red paint reveals plastic, and I know that I’ve been scammed. But I don’t mind.

About seven years ago, my husband and I spent ten days in Ethiopia—days we’d been looking forward to so long. We had planned to make it a vacation, to explore Addis Ababa and its surroundings; to get to know Aisha’s country, and to give her the opportunity to say goodbye. Photos of monuments would serve as memorials of her roots.

Instead, the Lonely Planet Guide we pored over during our preparation, lay unopened on my nightstand. We spent most of our time in and around our hotel, immersed in bonding with the nine-year-old girl who now was our daughter.

Aisha bubbled with energy, despite the restless nights she spent coughing and tossing between us. She was relentless in her demands, but her little voice wafting through the air as I pushed her on a swing—wada fee, wada sa, wada fee, wada sa—made me give in every time. The first time in the swimming pool, she tripped and nearly drowned. It didn’t stop her from soaking in the pool an entire afternoon, until her golden skin showed goose bumps—and my teeth were chattering. We played Memory at least a hundred times. I only won once—the first time. That was when I explained the game to her.

She liked joking. During dinner, we felt something tickling our knees, and Aisha explained, “A cat. A big cat.” Looking under the table, we didn’t see anything but a pair of little hands. “Oh—it’s gone.” Her laughter at the look on our faces echoed through the room.

Milk and cheese were labeled “me no,” whereas chewing gum was at the top of her list of favorite foods. Our “no” to some of her wishes triggered several crying fits. I spent an hour rocking her, holding her tight and whispering, “I love you, I love you, I love you…” to reassure her that even if we didn’t allow her to watch television all day, we still loved her.
Standing in front of the mirror for hours, she adorned her short, curly hair with pink ribbons and countless flower clips. Her best friend was my lipstick.

What little we experienced of the city affected us deeply. Modern office buildings rose high above corrugated iron shacks. Goatherds and donkeys wove through rows of honking cars. Elegantly dressed businessmen strode among begging lepers.

Each day, on our way to the nearby breakfast bar, we passed a person so marred by leprosy that it was impossible to tell whether it was a man or woman. We always put some money in the stump that was once a hand. One morning, my husband shared the Gospel. In the absence of a lower jaw, the person could only nod to confirm his words.

Just as we were about to continue our walk back to the hotel, Aisha cried, “Wait!” From her pocket, she fished the chewing gum we bought her that morning. Carefully, she pushed one—then two—sticks out of the package and laid them in the stump. The person nodded again, and Aisha skipped away, right into my arms.

We didn’t make photos of monuments, but monumental moments in our first days as a family were forever engraved in my memory.

So today, as I put on the red necklace with its fake gem, I feel grateful; a worthless souvenir from a country that birthed my greatest treasure—Aisha.


Although she doesn’t speak it anymore, Aisha’s native language is Amharic. Her song on the swing, “wada fee, wada sa, wada fee, wada sa” (written phonetically, as I heard it) means “back, forth, back, forth.”

A desire ran wild, handed over

Even a normal, healthy desires can turn unhealthy if we allow it to run wild and dominate us. In this article, I share with you how in 2006, I surrendered my “baby lust” to God, and how He molded it into sheer beauty.



 

Verdant hills roll to the horizon; a river glistens in the sun. The breeze caresses my face as I look at my belly, which bulges under a wide dress. Smiling, I wrap my arms around myself and embrace the wonder of new life.

Beep, beep, beep!

Three minutes had passed. I half opened one eye, eager to know the result, but afraid of disappointment. A little pink line stared at me. Hoping to detect a second pink line, I opened my other eye as well. I blinked. Nothing. My womb was empty.

I grabbed the pregnancy test stick off the washstand and tossed it in the trashcan, along with my dream.

It wasn’t the first time I considered having a child, but I had always found a reason to tuck the idea away. Now I wasn’t in control. Baby clothes brought me to tears. Imaginary telephone conversations to announce my pregnancy to family and friends made me beam. Whenever my husband, Jan, and I sketched our future, I drew a little one into the picture. I planned a nursery. I even named my baby. The prospect of morning sickness, stretch marks, or labor pains didn’t ruin my reverie; rather it added a heroic touch.

As the months crept by, my jubilant anticipation gave way to fear and frustration. The craving intensified with each negative test result, clutching my heart so tight it hurt.

Jan was at peace. “If God wants us to have a baby, we will conceive. Otherwise, we will remain a family of two.”

I fought his words. “If God exists, surely He wouldn’t be so cruel as to stir up this devouring need and then deny me a child.”

Later that year, when I surrendered to God, I learned that He might have given me the desire, but He wouldn’t want it to run wild and dominate my life. I decided to let Him reign.

But then early menopause hit, and I had a hard time accepting that I would never feel life grow within me, give birth, or nurse my baby. Jesus received my tears and tended to my wounds.

When He promised me a child through a Bible verse, “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear…,” I was confused and terrified. “Lord, what if I heard You wrong? What if my scars rip open and the craving creeps out? Can I bear it?”

Yet I chose to trust Him.

Ever so gently, Jesus molded my desire into a longing to care for a child—any child, no matter in whose womb it had been conceived.

Instead of enduring nausea, a big belly, and contractions, we struggled with adoption information sessions, psychological assessments, and a huge pile of paperwork.

Two years later, when the adoption agency proposed a seven-year-old Ethiopian girl, we knew Aisha was to be our daughter. Mesmerized, we gazed at her pictures. “When can we bring her home?”

Cheerfully, the psychologist answered, “The Ethiopian court must study your dossier and approve you as Aisha’s adoptive parents. If everything goes according to plan, the process will be completed within six months.”

Waiting at least another half a year and facing the risk of being rejected—o Lord, I need your help.

While collecting and authenticating the last documents, I submitted the adoption procedure and my fears to Jesus. He was faithful. He armed me with confidence and patience to fight the lavish longing that was about to organize a coup in my heart and rule once more.

One autumn day, we found ourselves sitting on the edge of a rickety couch in an orphanage in Addis Ababa. There, amid dusty furniture and boxes piled up to the ceiling, I first pressed Aisha’s small body against my chest. There, I felt Jesus wrap His arms around us, embracing the wonder of new life—a new family.

 


Notes

The Bible verse, “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear…” is from Isaiah 54:1.

This article was first published in the FaithWriters’ Weekly Writing Challenge.

 

Just Trust God for a New Day

my_just_trust_story_1-333x500

 

 

When writer and blogger Arabah Joy called for Just Trust Stories to support the release of her book Trust Without Borders, I knew immediately that I wanted to write about being barren and yet trusting God for a child. At the beginning of October, Arabah published my story on her blog.

“A New Day” tells about the first morning after we met our daughter—the first morning after the last chapter in Destination Italy.


 

A New Day

Addis Ababa, November 26 2008, 5 a.m.

An amplified male voice awakens me. Lying on my back, eyes closed, I hear the call to prayer from the minaret of a local mosque. The melodious sounds wash over me while my sleepy mind retraces the journey that brought me to this Ethiopian hotel room.

More than four years ago, at the age of forty-three, I hoped for a child. One year later, the onset of early menopause crushed my hope. My womb would remain forever empty.

Meanwhile, my husband Jan and I had moved to Italy. Apparently, a child didn’t fit into God’s plan for our lives in this new country. But why had He planted the love for a child inside of me? I struggled to understand.

Then one day, God touched my heart through a sermon.

Sing, O barren one, who did not bear;

break forth into singing and cry aloud,

you who have not been in labor!

                                   —Isaiah 54:1 ESV

Although the pastor was referring to birthing spiritual children through preaching the Gospel, I felt God promising us a real child. I meditated about the women in the Bible who became pregnant in their old age—Sarah, Elisabeth—and decided to give my desperate desire to God, simply trusting that His will be done.

Several months later, something shifted inside me, and a new longing came to life: to mother any child, no matter whether by birth or otherwise. I had pondered adoption previously, but fearing it would be too difficult, I set it aside. Now it was as if Someone had pressed a seed firmly into the soil of my heart, and this seed germinated. Patiently, I let the sprout grow until I was sure it was viable before I shared it with Jan. He agreed that we should begin the adoption procedure. We knew that if it were God’s will, we would overcome any problem.

As we moved forward in the adoption process, we felt God guiding us at every step. To our great joy, we were approved for adoption despite our age; Jan was fifty-six and I, forty-five. A prophetic word led us to the right adoption agency—one that was willing to consider our preference for a girl and licensed to work in Ethiopia, a country to which we felt strongly drawn.

When they told us of seven-year-old Aisha, we accepted without a moment’s hesitation. After another six months, the adoption process was complete.

Yesterday, we arrived in Addis Ababa and went to the orphanage to meet our daughter. Two and a half years after God’s promise, we wrapped our arms around our girl—the most beautiful gift of God.

A movement next to me calls me back to the present. I open my eyes to gaze at Aisha. Last night, after we invited her into the “big bed,” she happily fell asleep right away. Although murmuring and stirring, she’s still sleeping.

Hoping to nod off again, I roll over on my side.

Suddenly, I feel a child’s arm around my neck. I turn my head and meet two wide-awake eyes above a beaming smile.

Not wanting to awake Jan, we sneak out of bed; I beckon her into the bathroom. I whisper and gesticulate, trying to transcend the language barrier that still separates us. “Too early.” I point at an imaginary watch. “Sleep.” I fold my hands against my cheek.

Aisha follows my gaze to the bed, then shakes her head. She takes my hand and leads me to the window where she pulls back the curtain and triumphantly points outside. Lifting up my weary eyes to the pale sky, I concede. It’s dawn.

I look at my daughter’s face, which sparkles with anticipation of this new day, her new life.

My exhaustion gives way to love, and I kneel down to hold her tight. Then she says it—the one word we both know and have longed for. “Mama.”

Overwhelmed by God’s faithfulness, I realize it is indeed a brand new day.

Selective Reduction

This story is fiction.

pregnancy-14-weeks“Hey, you’re looking good!”

“Thank you. In fact, I feel good.” A radiant Norma took my arm as we walked into the coffee shop.

We’d been colleagues–two women in the male bastion of the banking world. In addition, we both hoped to get pregnant. When she left the company for another job, about a year ago, we lost contact. To my surprise, she called me yesterday and suggested to meet at our favorite coffee shop for old times’ sake.

While we headed for “our table” in the far corner, welcoming warmth and the aroma of coffee enveloped us.

I took off my jacket and hung it over the back of a chair. “My treat. Espresso, as usual?”

Norma wrinkled her nose. “No thanks. But I’m craving for carrot cake with butter frosting.”

“What? Since when do you eat cake?”

“Curious eh? Why don’t you get our snacks first?”

When I returned with a cappuccino and two oversized pieces of carrot cake, Norma had taken off her coat too. Was it my imagination, or was her slender figure really fuller than it used to be?

For a minute, we just relaxed and enjoyed the cozy ambiance. I scraped some frosting off the cake and savored its creamy sweetness.

“Mmm, this is so good.”

“Isn’t it. How are you doing, Alice? Any news on the baby front?”

“Yes and no. Roger and I found out that we can’t have children, but—“

“Oh honey, I’m so sorry.”

“But we’ve decided to adopt.”

“Adopt? Wow, how courageous.”

“It isn’t courage, Norma. It’s love. Actually, we’ve just been approved as adoptive parents. Now we’re waiting for the agency to match us with a child.”

“You can’t choose a child?”

“Nope. Our agency says that in real life you can’t pick a baby either. Anyway, we’re so excited! This waiting is difficult though; like being pregnant without knowing the gestation time.”

Norma took another bite. “Speaking of pregnancy—I’m in my fifteenth week.”

“How wonderful! I’m so happy for you. Congratulations.” I meant it. Clearly, it hurt being barren, but thank God, the grief had never dominated me. I simply trusted that His ways would bless me more than my own plans ever could.

“Thank you.” Norma avoided my eyes.

“Is everything alright, Norma?”

“Yes, everything’s great.” She hesitated. “I was carrying twins.”

“Oh my, what happened?”

“Winston and I were shocked when we found out. Our life doesn’t have room for two babies. We both have demanding jobs and our apartment has only two bedrooms.”

My stomach churned. “So?”

“We opted for selective pregnancy reduction.”

My hand flew to my mouth. “You had an abortion?”

“They were boy-girl twins. I didn’t have a preference, but Winston always wanted a son. Last week, the doctor just injected something into the female tissue. My own body will absorb the fetal material.”

Carrot cake rose up my gullet. I swallowed hard. “Norma, at three months a baby isn’t just ‘tissue’ or ‘material’. It has a head and arms and legs. Its little face can frown, its hands grasp. Its heart beat.”

“Alice, please, I don’t need to hear that right now.”

I pushed away the cake dish.

She leaned toward me. “Hey, what’s wrong? I shouldn’t have told you this, should I? You can’t even get pregnant. I’m so sorry.”

Closing my eyes, I felt tears flow. “I’m not crying because I’m infertile.”

I need to get out of here before I throw up.

Suddenly, God whispered in my soul. Don’t turn your back on her. She needs My grace.

Did He really say that? Please Lord, I don’t feel like talking to Norma now; she doesn’t seem to regret her choice at all. How can I make her recognize her need to repent?

A persistent Nudge made me decide to trust His discernment more than my own assessment of Norma’s heart. I suppressed the urge to leave and, after a deep breath, I managed to say, “Norma, may I share with you how my life—how I changed when I realized how much Jesus loves me?”

Her eyes turned big. “Do you believe in God?”

“Yes, I do. And He’s there for you too.”

A flicker of uncertainty passed over her face. “I don’t know, Alice. Anyway, if it makes you feel better, talk about it.”

I cleared my throat. “Well, it all started shortly before you left the bank. A friend invited me to a Christian retreat where I heard people sharing amazing testimonies…”

As I spoke, I felt the nausea fade. The disgust gave way to compassion; Norma needed to meet the Author of life.