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.”

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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

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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.