Sunday, May 13, 2012

How I met their mother: a story of hope

I originally shared this post on Mother's Day last year, and am sharing it again today.

My children prayed that we'd find her, when we went to Ethiopia.

Really we've been praying for her, by name, for years.

When we set off for Yosef and Biniam's birth country just three weeks ago, we didn't know if this woman was even alive.

She relinquished her twin babies nearly seven years ago.

We didn't know if we'd be able to locate her.

But we promised our children we'd try. 

We would try to find Yosef and Biniam's birth mother.

The social worker at Layla House called a fellow social worker in my sons' hometown.  Who set out on foot, searching for a woman with a now-8-year-old daughter...who used to have twin sons.

Someone in the neighborhood recognized the name of the daughter.  Didn't know anything about baby boys, but led the social worker to the mother's home.

And it was her.

The very next day, we left Mary with friends and made the trip to Nazret, where my sons come from.  The drive was hot...dusty...long.  It was the day before Good Friday, a national holiday, so traffic was extra bad.  (Think tons of cars crowding the road, various semi-trucks coming at you head-on, and plenty of exhaust fumes.)

The drive took us through primarily rural areas, which were actually quite beautiful.  We saw some wild camels.

Finally though, we reached the city of Nazret, or Adama.  Not nearly as dynamic or bustling as Addis Ababa.

We picked up the social worker who'd located my sons' birthmom the night before.

Turned down a dirt road.

Parked the van, and stepped into a dusty neighborhood filled with many, many "homes"--tiny mud structures, each not much bigger than a walk-in closet, with crooked, corrugated tin doors and roofs.

There were skinny cows and horses, sheep and goats randomly walking around.

It smelled bad.

No running water to be found.

Flies everywhere.

Finally we reached a door, and the social worker knocked. 

And out she stepped, into the sunlight.

This woman who gave my sons life and who has both graced and haunted our minds and hearts for as long as we've known her story.  For over five years we have wondered and hoped and dreamed that we would one day meet face to face.

And, she was stunning.

Absolutely Beautiful.

Super tiny.  (I looked like a giant next to her.)

And, I saw my sons.

Right there, in this stranger's face.

Yosef's smile, and his eyes.  His skin.

Biniam's eyebrows.  His height.

The woman appeared to be nervous.  And we shook her hand, told her through a translator that we were pleased to meet her. 

Because what else do you say?

As she beckoned us into her humble home, flies swarmed around, and it was hot, and suddenly half the neighborhood was pressing in to see who these sweaty ferenges were.

She told us she hadn't slept at all the night before, so worried we might not come afterall.

We quickly presented her with current photos of our sons.  Her sons.

She wept.  And kissed the pictures.  Held them to her heart.  Told us she'd feared they were dead.  And that she was shocked to hear from the social worker that the boys had been adopted, and that their parents were coming to see her.

We assured her that Yosef and Biniam are well.  Thriving.  Loving, sweet boys who adore school and who pray for her

And then there was her daughter, her oldest child.

Shy, beaming, radiant, this girl.  She had a laugh and a face like Yosef.  She is a Compassion child, with a sponsor and everything.  A bright student.  Full of life.

And there was the new baby girl, just eight months old.  Chubby and sweet and the spitting image of Biniam.  Skin, facial features, hair.  It was like looking at my son through a time machine.

I sat, drinking it all in.  Completely unreal.  And as I did everything within my power to resist batting away the flies, I studied this woman, and listened to the sad account of her mere twenty days with my sons.  Our sons.  Back when they were only her sons. 

They were sick, hungry, unhappy.  She was alone, and had no food for them.  This snapshot in time, this series of days in her life, was too overwhelming.  So she took the boys to a government office and did what must have felt impossible to do.  She relinquished them with the hope that someone, somewhere, would adopt them one day, if they survived.

She never named them.

We also met my sons' aunt, and cousin, a girl of about twelve.  Sweet as could be.

Then their dear birthmom led us down a path to show us the house where Yosef and Biniam were born.

My sons, literally born on the floor in this itty bitty place.  The one with the door on the left.

My emotions were all over the map.  They still are.

This was the life my sons would have had.  This was where they were born.  This was their first mom.

And, she loved them.  She loves her children.  This much was evident.  You don't need a job, or a car, or much of anything really to have a deep, abiding love for your children.  She's a good mama.  Who cares if she's poor, even by Ethiopian standards.

And yet, six years ago, she really had nothing.  Less than nothing.  She felt unable to keep her sons alive, and so she gave them away.

She told us that not a day has gone by when she hasn't thought of them, and prayed for them.

I believe her.

Somewhere along the way Kevin told her that we love the same Jesus.  And that we look forward to Heaven when we can all be together again.

I just sat and looked up at the posters on her walls. 

And somewhat unsuccessfully fought back the tears.  I wondered if she ever felt like Jesus had let her down.  I wondered if those words on her wall gave her hope, or if some days they seemed more like a slap in the face, a cosmic joke.

And then I felt frustrated with myself for even wondering that, for pitying the poor simply because they had little.  This 25-year-old woman carried herself with more dignity and grace than I will ever have.  All you had to do was look at her daughters to see the riches that she has.

Then as Kevin played catch with her oldest daughter--my sons' sister--using a stone he found on the ground, I wondered what my sons' birthmom thought of us.  She said she was relieved to see us.  That she was touched we came all that way to see her.  But did she feel...wistful?  let down?  embarrassed?

I will say that this dear woman believes with everything that is in her that she could not have cared for those two children, at that time.  She felt she had no choice.  And she was relieved to meet us and learn the fate of her long-lost twin sons.

This woman's living conditions would seem deplorable to us.  But it is all she knows.  It is all that many know.  She was dignified, beautiful, and proud.  And her sweet girls seemed happy and filled with child-like joy.  I suppose my grief ultimately came from witnessing brokenness (in this case, a family torn apart) that yes, often comes as a result of living in an impoverished society.  (Though it doesn't have to.)  Lack of safety one to turn to when your babies are hungry and their father is gone.  We see this all the time in our own country, if only we look.

By the time we left her home to head back to Addis (oh how I hated to leave!), she seemed as if a weight had been lifted.  She seemed at ease.  Like maybe she'd experienced a little bit of closure that day.  I think we both did, actually.  But mostly her. 

We hugged and kissed our goodbyes outside of her home.  Then the social workers and Kevin and I turned to walk to the van. 

Wordlessly, she followed.

She and her two beautiful daughters.  Yosef and Biniam's birthmom and sisters.  Walking side by side, with us.  No words, not even the same language to bind us together, yet we walked alongside one another as if we were old friends.  I think perhaps we all knew that something huge had transpired that day.

The three of them bid us goodbye yet again when we got to the car.  We drove off.  They waved to us with smiles until we were quite literally out of sight.  They'd wanted to see us off.

And that's when our tears began to flow freely.

In part because I don't know if we'll see these precious ones again this side of Heaven.

I'd like to think that we will.  I'd like to think that some day, when my sons are a little older, we can take them back and they can meet their mother and sisters and aunt and cousin for themselves.  I believe we owe it to all of them to try.

I have to tell you that the very moment we stepped through our front door last week, home from our long trip, our four oldest children were asking "Did you find her?  Did you find her?!"  Yes they they were glad to see Mom and Dad again, but it was obviously our sons' birthmom that was on their sweet, tender hearts.

We were able to tell them "yes".

That God had heard our prayers.  That she is alive and well.  That Yosef and Biniam also have two adorable sisters in Ethiopia.  And extended family, too.

That we were able to pass on the boys' messages to their birthmom. 

Biniam had wanted us to tell her that she's beautiful.

We did.

Yosef wanted her to know that we are all so happy to meet her.

She does.

We can tell them that she wears a cross around her neck, and has Jesus on her walls.  That she loves her babies--all four of them--to pieces.  Her life is downright difficult, and always has been, and far more painful than the sting of poverty are the piercing wounds of giving away one's children out of sheer desperation.

This experience of meeting her was profoundly beautiful, and profoundly painful.

I have to continue to tell myself that God sees each and every tear that falls.  Oh how I long for the day when Jesus will set all things right.  The day when parents and children won't be separated any longer.

I continue to find myself picturing the way she smiles proudly with her daughters, and I think about how they're a family.  In the midst of poverty, brokenness and loss, there is hope for Heaven and hope for healing.  There is a renewed hope that the twin baby boys fighting for life nearly seven years ago have a future, because of a nineteen year old's sacrifice.  There is hope in the joy of a new baby to love and to cherish.

And so I find myself thanking Jesus for the gift of hope this Mothers Day. 

Especially when I see my sons smile, or furrow their brows just-so.

Because when they do, I find myself staring into the beautiful face of their birthmother, waving goodbye.

It is the face of hope.  And my life is forever changed for having seen it.


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