Thursday, October 10, 2013

Birth Mother

What happens when you give your blog a fresh face lift, become re-energized about writing again, write and publish a 'new beginning' post, and vow to post regularly?  You get a baby!  And you don't post again for four months!

Little did I know when I penned the first post on the newly renovated blog that by the time I published it I would be on my way to meet a young woman who would change my life in a way no one in the world ever has or ever will again. 

Young, immature, scared, stressed, strangely calm, happy, sad, guilty, hopeful, regretful, thankful, nervous - a handful of conflicting words that describe what I saw in her face and heard in her voice the first time I met her.  A college student in her early twenties, her large round belly overwhelmed her tiny foreign frame, betraying a truth that could not be hidden.  At any moment she would deliver a 6 lb. 15 oz. 19.5 inch long baby boy that she kept telling herself she was emotionally detached from.  With an adoption plan in place, she had scoured family profile books searching for one that spoke to her heart.  She dug for the proverbial needle in a haystack, looking for a word, a picture, a feeling - anything that would point her to a family that she could trust to give the unborn child that squirmed inside her, pressing his foot against her side so hard its outline was visible through her shirt, the life she believed he deserved.  The life that she, herself, could not provide.

A full-blooded Inca Indian, born of parents who were raised in the high jungle on the Iquitos side of the Andes Mountains in Peru, she was no stranger to adoption as her own biological mother surrendered her to gringo parents when she was only a month old, leaving all traces of her ethnic heritage behind.  As we sat in a hotel conference room memorizing each other's faces, staring deep into each other's eyes, alternating between laughter and tears, and sharing every detail of our lives that was appropriate to share under the circumstances, I kept wanting to switch from English to Spanish.  She just looked SO Peruvian, and she was, on the surface anyway.  In words punctuated by a squeaky, childlike giggle, she pointed out that I (the blonde white woman) would be talking to myself if I changed languages because she (the dark brown woman) didn't speak a word of Spanish.  We laughed.

That meeting was precious time that I will never forget as long as I live.  There was an unspoken bond between us and we both knew it.

Six days later I received a text message saying she was in labor.  Seven days later this beautiful young woman gave birth to an even more beautiful baby.  Eight days later I sat with her in a hospital room and we both cried telling each other how much we loved each other.  Nine days later she placed her baby boy in my arms and told me that she knew deep in her heart that this was meant to be.  She said God had brought beauty from the ashes of her situation when He allowed her to carry this child so that Collins and I could become parents.  She believes that God used her to give us what we could not give ourselves. 

Nearly four months have passed and Toby Edgardo is insanely happy, ridiculously active, and spoiled absolutely rotten.  I did not know it was possible to love someone as much as I love this baby.  But not a day goes by that I don't think about Toby's birth mother.  While I exuberantly celebrate every second of every day of my life with this baby, I also grieve for her as her life goes forward without him.  It is a strange mixture of emotions that defies explanation or understanding. 

All babies are gifts.  But adoptive parents are acutely aware of that fact in ways that biological parents probably are not.  Another woman carried and birthed a child.  Knowing she could not care for him the way she knew he should be cared for, she loved him so much that she put her own selfish desires aside and entrusted Collins and me to raise him as our own.  She gave me her most precious possession believing I was worthy enough to be called "Mommy" by her little boy.  But there's more…

There's a bond between this birth mother and me that goes even deeper than the baby that we share.  Because on a raw, bare naked, vulnerable, nothing hidden soul level, what has transpired here is God.  Not an act of God, or the will of God, or a blessing from God.  God Himself happened.  God knows that we are a depraved people and we make monumental messes of our lives every day that we breathe.  But love overtakes Him and, finding us worthy amidst our blackest sinfulness, He selflessly gives us a baby - His baby - His son - and trusts us to receive the gift and value the pricelessness of it.  He gives us what we are unable to give ourselves.  He trades beauty for ashes.

Toby's birth mother is the bravest, most selfless, strongest, most courageous person I have ever known.  Though she would deny it, she is a picture of Jesus.  She knows a depth of love and a level of sacrifice that I cannot comprehend.  Motherhood demands a dying to self in ways that no other experience in this life can compare to.  On days when I want to throw my own private little hissy fit, stomping my demanding foot, shaking my indignant fist, and crying out in a sleep-deprived, unshowered, still have my pajamas on at 3 pm, puffy bags and dark circles under my eyes, don't remember when I last brushed my teeth or hair desperation/hysteria, a pair of big, dark eyes looks at me, sparkling, while a toothless, mouth-wide-open grin spreads across a face of the smoothest, richest, most flawless caramel colored skin I have ever seen.  And in that little tan face topped with jet black hair, a stark contrast to the fair skin and blonde hair genetics donated to me, I'm reminded of a birth mother who resembles my Savior in more ways that she may ever know.  

Friday, June 7, 2013

Not a Title, But a Way of Life

The plane touched down on the narrow strip of concrete in the middle of the jungle for my first trip to Iquitos in June 2002.  As I walked across the tarmac to the terminal with my church's mission team I heard the whisper of the Holy Spirit say that this very foreign, very uncomfortable zone would one day be my home.  In July 2004 I was no longer just a mission team member as in the two previous years - this time I was the trip leader.  Leading added a whole new dimension to the experience, which began with half of my team, myself included, getting involuntarily bumped off our flight from Atlanta to Lima.  Fast forward to 2005 - Amazon Mission Fellowship was born of a loose but committed group of pastors and Peru missions veterans devoted to seeing the ministry continue and I gladly accepted a spot in this group. 

I continued as trip leader in 2006, but rather than just a week with my church mission team, I spent my first summer in Iquitos acquiring Spanish and learning the ins and outs of hosting the summer teams.  At home in the U.S. this was the year I was elected as an elder in my church and began a three-year term on the missions committee.  In the summer of 2007 I coordinated and hosted the mission teams with the help of a returning intern.  This was also a big year for AMF as we officially formed our organization with officers, board members, bylaws - the works; I became the first President of Amazon Mission Fellowship.  Along came 2008 and I was a solo act.  Now in my third full summer, I lead my own church team as well as hosted six other teams.  This would be the year the familiar voice of the Holy Spirit would speak again with only two words - "It's time" - and I understood. 

In 2009 AMF got the exciting news that we were now a legitimate non-profit organization recognized by the U.S. Federal Government.  That same year I uprooted myself - walked away from an 18 year teaching career, left family, friends, and home, packed my things and created a new existence for myself in the Peruvian Amazon.  Usher in 2010 and I had a year of life in the jungle under my belt and had learned a great deal about the significant differences between being in a foreign country for one week vs. two months vs. year-round.  The summer of 2011 was the busiest one to date.  By this time AMF had grown from one U.S./Peruvian sister church relationship to five partnerships in addition to two new churches beginning to invest in the mission and a group that partnered with the local schools for handicapped children.  In June 2012 I had come full-circle.  Ten years after my first trip to Iquitos I spent what would be my final summer (at least for awhile) helping so many precious friends - gringo and Peruvian alike - grow their investments in each other.

They tell me that this is the process by which I became a missionary.  I disagree.  I submit that I gained the title of missionary on November 20, 1997 when I acknowledged myself as a sinner in need of a Savior and became best buddies with Jesus.  Call me crazy, but I'm pretty sure I still carry the title, even though I no longer live in Peru.   And I don't just live in the U.S., but (brace yourself) in South Carolina! Yes, I hear the collective gasps as those of you outside of the Palmetto State perpetuate the false notion that Jesus would never come here.

Whether on the banks of the Amazon River or in small town South Cackalacky (and if you don't believe that's legit vocabulary feel free to consult the urban dictionary),  people are lost, hurting, searching, looking for a better way, longing for the love that is found only in the arms of Christ.  So how are they supposed to hear the Truth?  Find the answer?  It's gonna be pretty tough if real missionaries are only those who live and serve in foreign countries.  Last time I checked I wasn't in heaven (though South Cack is VERY close!), and if heaven is home, then that must mean I'm currently living in a strange land.  The question is, am I serving in this foreign place?  Am I putting myself out there among the poor, the lonely, the downtrodden?  Do I know the homeless, the drug addicts, the abused?  Could I tell you where the widows, the helpless, and the hungry live?  Or do I wear my nice clothes while driving my nice car to my nice church where I mingle with other nice people and hear a nice sermon before going to a nice restaurant for lunch after which I will take a nice Sunday afternoon nap?

I've got a lot of work to do processing the experience of Peru.  Significant chunks of that work will play out here on this blog through the retelling of stories and the analyzing of one of the most amazing legs of my journey, through which God fully intends to show me (and you if you're brave enough to go with me) what a missionary really is.  Think you've got what it takes to tackle it with me?  I invite you to come along - no, I dare you to!

Recommended Reading

  • The Bible
  • Serving with Eyes Wide Open - Doing Short Term Missions with Cultural Intelligence - David A. Livermore
  • Cross-Cultural Servanthood - Serving the World in Christlike Humility - Duane Elmer
  • Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It) - Robert D. Lupton
  • When Helping Hurts-Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor...and Yourself - Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
  • Shadow of the Almighty - Elizabeth Elliot
  • Messy Spirituality - Michael Yaconelli
  • The Irresistible Revolution - Shane Claiborne
  • Peace Child - Don Richardson
  • If God Should Choose - Kristen Stagg
  • In the Presence of My Enemies - Gracia Burnham
  • Inside Afghanistan - John Weaver
  • Same Kind of Different as Me - Ron Hall and Denver Moore
  • Through Gates of Splendor - Elizabeth Elliot
  • End of the Spear - Steve Saint