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Monday, August 8, 2011

The Promise of Canaan

Wow . . . it's been a rough summer. I haven't even looked at my blog in awhile. Maybe no one else is looking either, but hey - it's therapeutic for me so I write. In May, Peniel and Jeremiah went back to their mom. The original plan was for "the month of June" so we could "see how it would go." But I knew they weren't coming back. In my heart, it was easier to just pretend it would only be June. They had been with us for eleven months. I think back on all the things they did for the first time while they lived with us. They had pet dogs! They saw the ocean, played in the ocean, swam in the ocean! They went camping for the first time! They had gobs and gobs of family and presents at Christmas. They both celebrated birthdays with us. They attended a funeral for John's dad. They went to counseling. Jeremiah started and finished kindergarten with us, and Peniel started and finished second grade. It was a beautiful, fantastic, life-changing year for us.
Less than two weeks later, Hannah moved out. It was bittersweet. It was the end of a season in her life, and our lives, but it was joyful because she was going to live with her mom again, and would get to see her dad, sister, and half-brother as often as possible. She had lived with us for two years. It will always be a special two years in my memory. Suddenly, the house seemed very empty. At the kitchen table, there were two empty seats.

Hannah's empty room
Around this same time, there was a phone call. It was totally unexpected and I need to give you some background information so you will know why this phone call was relevant.
Back a couple of months ago there was a prayer request sent in from a church member. I knew the woman by name. The prayer request was for a young single mom who was pregnant and looking for a Christian family to adopt her baby at birth. I ended up calling the church member who sent in the prayer request. I told her it was none of my business, but that I have struggled with infertility and two losses, and wanted a baby more than anything in the universe. She told me that the young woman had already met with an adoption agency, and had narrowed her choices down to one or two families. I thought that was it, and I let it go.
The call in May was from the same church member. She told me that the adoption agency wasn't working out. The prospective parents had changed their mind. How could they change their mind, I wondered. She asked me if we were interested in the baby. The word "absolutely" could not come out of my mouth fast enough. I called John and then I ran to my mom's office over in the music department. We cried and prayed and held hands. I had so much hope. I can't remember when I had so much hope. It was a boy.
The church member and friend of the birth mom asked if I would be willing to meet with them the next day. I was. We met in my office at the church. It was surreal. The birth mom told me that she wanted to find a good, Christian family to adopt her baby boy at birth. She was unhappy with the adoption agency because their policy was to take the baby into foster care for two weeks until the birth mother could not change her mind anymore. She told me that she wanted him to go home from the hospital with his parents and that she would not change her mind. She asked me if we had any problem with adopting a biracial child. I showed her pictures of Peniel and Jeremiah. I told her how we loved them, how they felt like ours, how we never even considered the color of their skin. This baby, I promised her, would be loved and cherished, and given every opportunity and blessing in life. She showed me pictures of her other three small children. She told me that she could barely provide for them, had no job and was living with her mom. She told me that this baby should have a better life. She would give him a better life.
It all happened so fast. The next Sunday, she met me and John together, and brought her sister. She told us to pick out a name for him. It wasn't hard. The name in our hearts was Canaan. To us, it was a promise kept - a promise of coming into a new chapter of our lives. Canaan was the reason why I had lost two babies before, the reason Peniel and Jeremiah had to leave. The reason why out of the clear blue, Hannah had decided to move out. Suddenly it all made sense.  He was meant to be ours.
She liked the name we had chosen. She began to refer to him as Canaan, growing inside of her.
The next week, she invited me to the ultrasound. It was a 3-D ultrasound. I rode in a car with this young, thin, dark-haired woman, her arms covered in tattoos, her face marked with small scars. We had nothing in common except the child she was carrying. I wanted him, she wanted to give him away.
When I saw his face on the ultrasound, I gasped. His lips were full, his nose was perfect. I could see his eyebrows and the curve of his forehead.
She confided in me and told me that when she had learned of this pregnancy, she had gone to the abortion clinic. She was eight or nine weeks pregnant and paid for an abortion. A few weeks later, she returned for her post-abortion check-up. He was still there. The abortion had failed. I cried when she told me, and I cried later when I told my mom and John. He was our Canaan, our promised one.
For a few weeks, I was in shock and floating on cloud nine. John convinced me that we should at least go and register at the baby store. I had never allowed myself to enter the baby store. I couldn't even walk down the baby aisle of a grocery store. But one night we went out to dinner, and we walked into that enormous superstore full of bottles, diapers, little outfits, blankets, formula, furniture, bedding, cribs, sheets, blankets, car seats and everything I had always deprived myself from dreaming of.
With the help of the store manager (a friend of John's) we created a baby registry. It was perfect.
The diaper bag was perfect. The bedding was perfect. The sweet little bumper pads were perfect. Everything about that night was perfect.
The next week I hoped to hear from the birth mom. When five days went by without a call, I called her myself. It was two weeks before the scheduled C-section. When she answered, she sounded tired, and nonchalantly told me that he had been born earlier that day. He was two weeks early, she had gone into pre-term labor. He was in NICU, six pounds and a few ounces. "Visiting hours are over," she told me, "I guess you should get your lawyer and come to the hospital tomorrow."
That night I hardly slept. I washed a little blue outfit with a tiny teddy bear patch. It was the smallest of the few outfits I owned. I washed it on delicate and dried it with extra fabric softener. It was folded neatly and ready to go the next day. The truth is, I bought this baby blue outfit five years ago when I lost my first tubal baby. It has been hanging in the closet for five years. I held onto it like I held onto the hope of a child.
John and I drove to Buford and met with our attorney. We gave her our paperwork and a check for her services. She told us to go on over to the hospital and see the baby. She would get all the papers moving and meet us there later.
We drove to Gwinnett Medical, but we couldn't move fast enough. We parked in front of the women's pavilion- a place that I hated because it has only meant loss for me before.
We went into the lobby and got directions to the room where the birth mom was recovering. I insisted we stop by the gift shop and get flowers, but when we got there, everything looked so cheery and inappropriate to give someone who was giving up their child. We went on without flowers. We knocked at her door. After a short wait, she called for us to come in. On the table beside her bed was a small book called "Given in Love." I recognized it immediately as being the book the social worker gives to a mom who is surrendering a child for adoption. I breathed a sigh of relief that she was going through with it. She had even told the hospital social worker of her plans. John and I stood nervously at the foot of the bed of this stranger who held the key to our hearts.
I don't remember what I said. I just know that she shifted around uncomfortably under the blanket and avoided our eyes.
"I've decided I'm just going to raise him myself."
The phone beside her bed started ringing. I turned to John and fell apart. I dropped the little blue outfit with the teddy bear. John held my arms while I screamed and cried. I was moving for the door when she answered the phone. Behind me I heard her saying, "you had to know that I could change my mind." I was running down the hallway with John behind me, my tears were falling all over me now. We passed a couple of nurses, a doctor, the happy friends in the waiting room, the proud parents. I passed through them crying, trying not to scream in the lobby. Outside, I was hit with the heat of late-morning in June. John didn't say anything. He just hurried behind me to unlock the car, his camera bag on his shoulder. I know I was screaming and ranting. I know I was making a fool of myself. I didn't care.
We walked out of the hospital having never met Canaan. I am sure that he was probably taken home from the hospital in the blue outfit with the teddy bear, because he had nothing else in the world. He went home with a mother who tried to abort him seven months earlier. He went home to three hungry siblings, no father, no beautiful bedding and perfect car seat, no perfect amazing stroller, no doting grandparents and aunts, cousins, uncles, or me. He was most likely driven home in an old, two-door sports car with bad AC and the same raunchy rap music playing in her car on that day I saw his face on the ultrasound.
I'm sorry, Canaan.
I had this plan that we would put the family cradle (the one my grandaddy built) beside our bed for at least a few months. I could see him there, sleeping under the perfect blankets, with his soft skin and full lips. I would have watched him for hours. I would have rocked him in the rocking chair where Jeremiah had let me baby him last year. I would have whispered in his ear about the great promise of his life, the great gift that he was. I would have given everything I had to make sure he had everything the world could offer. He would have played sports and learned to read music. He would have gone to church, to camp, to the beach, to Sunday school.
Somewhere now, he is two months old. I will never stop thinking of him and what he could have been. I still look at the space beside our bed and think of him there, quietly sleeping, warm and safe. I would have protected him from all the darkness, fear and harm in this world, if only I could have had the chance.
And now it seems like Canaan is a metaphor. It is a place in my heart that I have held onto for a long time. I believe God has promised me that I will be a mother- somehow. Right now, in light of this enormous loss, my promised land seems out of reach. and sometimes I think that like Moses, I may die trying to get there.
Here is my promise, and God, I'm holding you to it:
1 “Sing, O barren,
      You who have not borne!
      Break forth into singing, and cry aloud,
      You who have not labored with child!
      For more are the children of the desolate
      Than the children of the married woman,” says the LORD.
       2 “ Enlarge the place of your tent,
      And let them stretch out the curtains of your dwellings;
      Do not spare;
      Lengthen your cords,
      And strengthen your stakes.
       3 For you shall expand to the right and to the left,
      And your descendants will inherit the nations,
      And make the desolate cities inhabited.
       4 “ Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed;
      Neither be disgraced, for you will not be put to shame;
      For you will forget the shame of your youth,
      And will not remember the reproach of your widowhood anymore.
       5 For your Maker is your husband,
      The LORD of hosts is His name;
      And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel;
      He is called the God of the whole earth.
       6 For the LORD has called you
      Like a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit,
      Like a youthful wife when you were refused,”
      Says your God.
       7 “ For a mere moment I have forsaken you,
      But with great mercies I will gather you.
       8 With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment;
      But with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you,”
      Says the LORD, your Redeemer.
Two different women in my church have given me this scripture at two different times without knowing my situation. The first time, this scripture was typed up and hand-delivered to me here in my office with nothing else but the scripture. The second time, two years late, it was attached to a set of tent pegs and given to me as a gift. Coincidence?

Finally, I must add this: Our summer has been painful because of the loss of my beloved Grandaddy, John Timothy Donehoo Sr. I was blessed to be able to speak at his memorial service just a few weeks ago. The reason I wanted to speak at his funeral was to recognize a man who married a widow and adopted her three children, becoming a father to the fatherless and who loved all of his children and grandchildren relentlessly. By his example, he not only changed entire lives of countless people, he chose to be our grandaddy. He was a man of integrity, character, and Christian witness. His youngest adopted child is my mother.
When I graduated from high school, my mom organized a beautiful reception for me at our house in Lawrenceville. She asked everyone in advance to come prepared to give me a "blessing" as I was taking off for college. The written blessings were read to me, and I still cherish each one to this day. There were blessings of friendship, peace, safety, wisdom, faith, and much more. The one that will always be prominent in my mind came from Bunna (mom's mom/ Grandaddy's wife.) She gave me a small photo album, the first picture is me. The second photo is my mom. The third photo is of her (my grandmother), the fourth photo of my great-grandmother. The fifth photo is my great, great grandmother. The sixth photo is my great, great, great grandmother, and the seventh photo is my great, great, great, great grandmother. It is a photo so old it looks like X-ray film. Along with this album, Bunna gave me a blessing: In the Name of Jesus Christ, I bless you, she wrote, with the blessing of maternal love. Because of this blessing, I am even more certain of the promise of Canaan. The promise God has given me is that I will love children with the love of a mother. I will choose to love the children God will give me. I will not love them less because I did not carry them in my body, or because they came to me through difficult and painful circumstances. I will love them as God loves us, as my Grandaddy loved us.
Pray for me!

1 comment:

  1. I don't have any wise words, but I am reading. Lots of tough things for you in such a short period of time. Praying Spring comes for you soon.