[Though uncharacteristic of this space, this and my previous post are part of something that is very close to my heart. Would you read through to the end?]
The name they gave her — this speechless toddler roaming the streets of war, searching for refuge for herself among all those refugees — meant despised.
She wasn’t old enough to speak her given name, so her new situation named her.
In a culture where names come from life-circumstances, not baby books, a name is a branding.
Her infant-years were easily erased and re-branded in red, a forever-continuing reminder of the death that stole her inheritance. More accurately, her new name — given by a stranger — indicated that her birth mother must have felt despised … and this impression was now passed on to this child.
As her name.
When war tears at flesh and the heart which it encases, isn’t it “natural” to feel He has not just forgotten you, but despised you?
I cry and cringe as I write this hidden nugget, kept (even still) from her. This secret is one I’ve spent days praying: “Do I share this, Father? This dirty little word we would hope might be erased from our story (because her story, is our story). When we re-write, can’t we just forget?”
But one day she will ask, or maybe sooner, we will tell. Because to forget — to simply erase — means that we would trust in God only enough to walk us around the valley of the shadow of death, not through it.
And here is the question: When we suffer, what does that say about His stance towards us?
He put her under my roof, this girl whose old name, received, is the same one I’m sometimes tempted to give myself. I see dissonance between who He is and what I’m not and I’m allured to despise … myself, and thus I do what those who see themselves as despised do: distance myself from Him in anticipation of His distance from me. All so subtle.
But His love is anything but natural against our temporal understandings of suffering. In this upside-down kingdom He’s created, our weakest limitations — the ones most named and labeled — are places where we find who He has made us to be.
Our handicaps hold the secret: He overshadows.
And the darkest parts of us become the place where our flesh can know glory. Our foibles, our insecurities, those things about ourselves and our circumstances that we despise, that simmer deep below the surface and tell us that He’s distant and disappointed — they beg for a purpose and a power and an invitation to be, instead, transfigured. His power is made perfect here.
And He does with us what He did with her.
He sent two nurses with a heart for orphans into a remote region that didn’t make the normal adoption map. They worked day shifts at a hospital and spent their night hours exchanging the comforts of western living for power outages and moonlighting with these named ones, orphaned. They came with their degrees and a God inside of them, bigger than that paper, and left Uganda over a year later with five children whom they ushered into families.
There was no logical reason for my Lily to be found.
There were no case-workers advocating for her or adoption agencies who’d snapped her picture and posted it on a waiting-child list.
She was one face among a hundred+ in a village of thousands, overlooked, but who had a proclivity toward sickness that invited the regular care of these nurses.
And one seemingly-mundane Saturday, when He whispered “you are pregnant,” I came home to find an email, connecting me to these nurses across the ocean, whose hands would soon be the first to take a cloth to her life’s stains and gently tell her that she would be no longer fatherless.
The one, fatherless, holds the key in their story to the side of the Father the rest of us clamor to understand. To the world, she was lost - without apparent hope, abandoned in a sea of stories just like her own. But He knew those eyes. And her giggle … it turned His head. Her first tooth, lost, and her first step, taken, were each moments in which He reveled.
She was despised by man’s assessment. She was forgotten, a number. And Isn’t that what her story revealed? But He knew the rise and fall of her chest during those fatherless nights while she slept.
And she moved His heart, even in her weakened state. Especially in her weakened state.
The earth attempted to give the final word on this child: despised. But all along she was being pursued by God, which is the greatest confidence builder of all.
Her suffering had a context.
He would transfigure it into glory.
Her new middle name? She requested it. Joy, after one of the nurses who found and fostered her.
Do you know just how impossible it is for the sufferer to manufacture joy? But He offers a holy, other version of joy — different than the temporary shot of happiness which comes from a good bill of circumstances. He offers the joy that wells up when our broken frames find their place under His kind eye, not hiding or shrinking under accusation but receiving. There is nothing else like it.
Her worst pain carved a hole for His infilling. Of joy.
And her one request, when we told her about the answer to a year’s worth of prayers — that the sisterhood forged in dirt and war was not over, but that her dear friend Stella was defying adoption odds and coming into a family … to the bed my dear friend Beth has made for her (the story I still can’t get my mind around!) — was in relation to a re-naming.
“Mommy, will you ask Miss Beth if they would give Stella the middle name Joy?”
Soul-sisters, clasping hands across life-circumstances that might make the world believe they were despised, will now share more than a story.
They will share a name.
He makes all things new.
Those who sow in tears
Shall reap in joy – Psalm 126
Here is where you come in: He speaks through story. And the story of the one who is orphaned but chosen, whose name we know and whose life is one in which we’ve invested, works itself into our understanding in a deeper way than a sermon or a teaching.
There is a front-row seat in this hallowed moment.
Will you carry them with your prayers?
Will you participate in the restoration? Will you help bring Stella Joy into her family, the one He predestined before she was abandoned?
The Wilkerson’s adoption will cost an estimated $30,000, which roughly breaks down to $10,000 in adoption agency fees, $10,000 in airfare (their in-country stay will be at least 5 weeks and possibly longer; therefore, they will be traveling with their entire family) and another $10,000 of in-country legal, transportation, and accommodation fees. They’ve been selectively approved by Lifesong for Orphans** to field their donations as tax-deductible.
Would you share this story with those who have a hunger for redemption — on Facebook and Twitter, on email and your own blogs and among your family and friends?
Will you make an ask on Stella Joy’s behalf?
There is a face behind this story.
Or send a check to Lifesong for Orphans marked “Wilkerson Adoption” so that it gets properly applied to Stella’s adoption.
*Stella is the name the Wilkerson’s have chosen to give Lily’s dear friend, upon adoption. We’ve masked her original name to protect her identity during this adoption process.
** Please mark any check or donation with “Wilkerson Adoption” so that it gets properly applied to Stella’s adoption. Lifesong for Orphans is a certified member of the Evangelical Council on Financial Accountability. 100% of all funds raised will go directly to cover adoption costs—nothing will be taken out for Lifesong for Orphans’ administrative costs. Please note that in following IRS guidelines, your donation is to the non-profit organization Lifesong for Orphans. They retain full discretion over its use, but intend to honor the donor’s suggestion. Individual donations of $250 or more and yearly donations totaling $250 or more will receive a tax-deductible receipt.
If you have any questions regarding the Wilkerson’s adoption that you would like to direct to them, you can send an email to stellajoywilkerson(at)gmail.com.