Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Life Worth Living

Today our church family said our final goodbyes to a wonderful woman, Sally Ford. While we mourned the loss of her companionship and guidance, we rejoiced knowing she is truly in a better place. I can't remember a time when I didn't know her. She and my mom have been best friends as long as I have been alive, and our families took many vacations together. From surf fishing at Carolina Beach in North Carolina to trips to the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, almost every childhood memory includes Sally, her husband, and their three sons. She has been a role model for me from the time I was a child. You know how it is when you're a teenager; your parents know NOTHING, they don't understand you, and have no clue that you are practically an ADULT and still treat you like a kid. The nerve of them. At times like this, when you have someone like Sally that can put things into perspective, and put you in your place, it's a huge help. She taught me a lot. By sitting and talking with her, seeing what she did with others, and following her lead, I have learned so much. I have learned that by inviting a group of girls from church over to make candy on Sunday afternoon, you give them a memory that will last a lifetime. I have learned that you can pick up the phone to call someone or send them a card, and by doing that you help them to realize they matter and they are not forgotten. I have learned that you can speak your mind, in love, and make an impact on someone. I have learned generosity, compassion, love, how to keep a positive attitude and find the joy in any situation.

Sally wasn't in good health for a while, and this year it seemed like it all just exploded on her. She found out she had macular degeneration, and had surgery then shots after shots in her eyes, to try and preserve her eyesight. Then in May she had to have heart surgery to replace a valve in her heart. In July she was diagnosed with cancer, which had already started spreading. This is a lot for any one person to take, especially all within a few months of each other. But did she complain? NOPE. The way she put it to me one day was like this. She said "I could be bitter and say why me, why is all this happening to me at one time. But I see God working. He knew all this was coming. He fixed my eyes so I see my cards. And by fixing my eyes, they found the heart damage. If I hadn't had the heart surgery, I wouldn't be strong enough to face chemo. God knows what He is doing.".  Wow. To be able to look at all this and still give God the glory. But we all saw that her faith was unshakable.

Sally had been a Christian for about 45 years. I never saw her waver from that. She and Webby raised their boys to be good Christian men, which they all are now, and are raising their children with the strong faith they learned. As much as she hurt, she made it to every service she could. Some of the same services I missed because I was tired, or because my back hurt, or whatever other excuse I had. She has helped so many of us so many times with encouragement and support.

For those of you who may have been reading my blog from the beginning (yes, all 2 of you), you might remember that I said Sam had really struck something in me because I knew someone who was born with a similar condition in their hands. That someone is one of Sally's sons, T. He and I are the same age, have grown up together, and I got to see firsthand just what all Sam could do if given the chance. It really got to me how different their lives were, all because of their mothers. Sally gave birth to T, saw his hands were like they were, but it didn't make a bit of difference to her. He was her son, and he was never treated any different than his brothers. He was pushed to be the best person he could be, never was treated as if he had a disability or as someone different. Sam's mother gave birth, saw his hands were like they were, and cast him aside. It's just inconceivable to me. If Sam had Sally as his mother, his dreams would be unstoppable. And that's what I had intended to do. I wanted to be for Sam what Sally had been for T. And when we were unable to continue, she knew I hurt. She sent me the sweetest card and invited me over for coffee. It made such a huge impact on me. All around were people I knew who hadn't even acknowledged that we were adopting, and never understood the grief we had when we had to let go. But she did.

She knew I was hurting, and she reached out to me. And she did that to everyone. I doubt there's a person at our church who doesn't have a similar story. That's just who she was. Even in the hospital she tried to comfort everyone around her who was upset. I sat with her last Thursday at the hospital and just cried at seeing the amount of pain she was in. I was holding her hand, trying to comfort her, and she put her other hand over mine and kept saying "I'm ok, I'm alright". She even kept her awesome sense of humor to the very end. Once during a really bad pain, she took a deep breath and said "Traci, let's just go to the beach".

She has always been one of the funniest people I know. She had a sharp wit and a quick mind, and you knew you would be cheered up around her. Sally loved to laugh. Once, we were heading to the beach, I with two of my kids, my mom, Sally, my brother, and his friend. We stopped at a gas station for a break, and when we all piled back in the van, my brother and his friend couldn't stop giggling. When twelve year old boys do that, you know they're up to something. After several miles, we finally got it out of them. They had taken some snap and pops and carefully placed them under the seat of the toilet in the women's room. (If you don't what they are, they are these little paper balls filled with an explosive powder. Throw them on the ground and they make a banging noise. Completely harmless, but will scare you to death if you aren't expecting it.) Now you know how gas station bathrooms are. You don't use one until you really HAVE to go. Imagine running into one, plopping down on one thankful you made it in time, and those things going off! Let's just say it would be a good thing you were where you were. Mom and Sally were horrifed at first that they had done this, but couldn't help but laugh at the thought. Sally tried to scold Josh and his friend, but she was laughing so hard she couldn't hardly do it.

Sallie Gatewood Ford

She was one of a kind, and there is so much I could write about her. But the most important thing I will remember about her was that she lived her faith, right up to the very end. She's an example we all need. I hope I can grow up to be a Sally one day.

What will your legacy be? What will they say about you at your funeral? Will they be able to base an entire sermon around your faith and life, and be able to say, this is how everyone should do? Will your family have the comfort Sally's family has, of knowing she is truly at peace and without pain?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Full circle

Back in late February when I first saw Sam's picture and we started our adoption journey, I would never have dreamed the twists and turns that would happen. In case you haven't been following along, here's the Reader's Digest Condensed Version:

I found Sam's picture and information on a friend's FB post. After a week or two of scrambling to find a home study agency that could work with us on such short notice, we committed to Sam. Duncan soon had a family committed to him. Then the first twist, which you can read about here Details on Duncan. So now we were committed to both boys! We were overjoyed to be adding two precious sons, and began preparations. A room was remodeled, we began to look at adaptions that would need to made to the house to accommodate Duncan's CP issues, fundraising, and working on our homestudy and dossier. Every conversation revolved around the boys. Not just about the adopting process, but things like "here's a soccer camp for Sam he may like", "I can't wait to take them camping", "I wonder how they will like living out in the country". We began studying Russian, which is not easy, since you have to learn a whole new alphabet! I did lots of reading on issues they would have and adjustments they would be making, to help them make the transition as easy as possible. We were so excited for the opportunities they would have. 

But then we had the worst news possible. Sam's birthday was coming up, and our homestudy still wasn't finished. Tears and Prayers We had to make the unbelievably tough decision to back away from the adoption, to make sure we didn't cause them to lose their last chance to be free. I could not have lived with myself if that happened. We knew there were other families that were waiting to step in, so that helped trememdously. Soon we got to "meet" their new families online. The Daughtons for Duncan and The Stokes family for Sam. Both incredibly nice families, and I could see the boys fitting in so well with both of them! We prayed constantly for them and followed their journey.

As you may know, the Stokes family went over and Sam decided not to come to the U.S. after being misled by others at his orphanage. The rumors that were fed to him are crazy, but very prevalent there. We were all devastated of course, as we had no clue that might happen. Then the Daughtons went, and Duncan also said no.  Again, everyone was heartbroken. 

We could say that's the end of the story, but that's not true. There have been so many blessings for us along this journey. I have made new friends that I truly love. I've been able to follow so many stories of seeing orphans, once abandoned and forgotten, come in families where they have flourished and grown. I've seen and hugged some of these precious kids, not once forgetting that if not for the families who have sacrificed so much for them, they would still be lost to the world.

Here are some kids who are changing the world, through adoption:

Keith was adopted from one of the worst orphanages in Eastern Europe. He was basically being starved to death. The picture on the left is him at 5 years old, and he weighed 12 lbs. Yes, 12 lbs! One month after being home with his family, look at him!! Look at those chubby cheeks, those fat little arms! His family's blog is one you need to read. There are so many children still in that orphanage that need OUT. They need families to see the potential these kids have, and are willing to answer God's call and DO something. Not because you need another child in your family, but because this child needs a family. Look what a family did for Keith!

Another family, one I have gotten to know and love, is the Rhodes family. Here is one of their two new sons, Vaylo. (Hope you don't mind me stealing a pic Mandy!) He's a very snuggly sweetheart who just melts in your arms when you hold him. I could sit all day and snuggle him! Their story is also incredible. They are headed back to Eastern Europe to rescue Samuel's best friend, and they have some really cool fundraisers going on. Check out their blog and see if you can help them on their journey.

The Pickett family is also very dear to my heart. They are in the process of adopting a son and a daughter from EE, and I can't wait to have their daughter in our Girl Scout troop! She will be an inspiration to all the girls, I know. You can click above to their link on Reece's Rainbow, or click here for their blog. They could also use some financial support in their journey.

A lot of people don't understand why adoption advocates are always wanting others to help out financially. They don't understand, and say things like "if you can't afford to adopt them, you shouldn't do it", or "why should I help pay to get your kid here". Well, for the first comment, "if you can't afford to pay for it", let's think for a second. Did you have cash up front for your house? Your new car? Your boat? Your tv that you put on a credit card? Adoption is very expensive, ranging from $17,000-$40,000+. I don't know anyone who has that kind of money lying around. But why ask others to help? Because God said to. Ok, not exactly. But, He told us to help orphans and widows. Read James 1:27. Not everyone can adopt themselves. That's ok. Some have reluctant husbands. Some don't qualify for the requirements. For whatever reason, some just can't do it. But that doesn't let you off the hook. Your church may send part of the offering to a children's home. Yes, that's helping. But where's the personal sacrifice in that? And what is it doing? It's keeping the children's home going, sure. But God adopted us, he didn't leave us as orphans. Don't you think He would rather we do the same? We can help a child go from being an orphan, to being a son, or a daughter. Which way do you think makes the most impact on that child's life?

And one more family. Of course I can't do a post about adopting families and NOT mention my favorite kids, the Rogers! Jessa and Caleb, formerly known as Bernadette and Mason, Lord willing, arrive home in the United States in about 48 hours! When the call first went out about Jessa, a 15 year old girl with Down Syndrome who would be sent to a mental institution if she didn't find a home, and FAST, the adoption world rallied around her. Her family found her, her fund shot up like a rocket, and now she is Jessica Dorothy Rogers, with 10 siblings!! Her world is getting ready to explode with color and fun and love, and the world will be changed forever. Because Erika and Mel said yes, we will be her parents. We can be what she needs.

What can you do?

I guess the title "Full Circle" is a misnomer. This leg of my journey may be completed, as far as Sam and Duncan go, but I can't wait to see what's next. Once your eyes are opened to special needs (the biggest need being that these children need families) you can't turn away. And I won't!