This is a story about my friend who, a little less than a year ago, went on her very first overseas mission trip. She went to the Philippines to work at a school and orphanage that our church supports. Of course, even though I have never been there, I peppered her with advice. She needed my advice because, having been a failed missionary myself, I KNOW EVERYTHING. I told her how to sleep on planes, adjust to jet lag, overcome culture shock, adjust to being a minority, and other pointless things. I gave her lots of advice because, by default, when I don’t know what to say, I just talk a lot.
Mainly I was really excited for her. And, quite frankly, a little worried. I knew she would love it and thrive and become a wonderful advocate for missions. That wasn’t the problem. The reason I was worried is because my friend is quite tender-hearted. So even though the point of missions are to become more affected, involved, and inspired, I was a little worried that it might just break her wide open.
Because really, calling my friend tender-hearted is a major understatement. Tender is a word that you use to describe a perfectly cooked steak that gives slight resistance when poked. My friend is Jell-o-hearted. She is one of those people who is absolutely obsessed with making people feel welcomed, loved, and needed. She loves people with a kind of enthusiasm and extroversion that puts even me to shame. (Those of you who don’t know her are dubious that such a thing is possible, but I assure you, it is true. I feel downright shy around her at times. ;)) She says that she has the spiritual gift of tears, but I think she has the spiritual gift of empathy. When she feels for someone, she feels it deeply and she shows it. She would walk through fire just to keep one lonely girl from feeling awkward in a crowded room. She takes encouragement and friendliness and compassion to a new level.
One of her other loves is the Twilight Series and when I read the last book, I finally stopped wondering why she loved them so much. She’s IN THAT STORY!!! You know how Bella is desperate to protect EVERYONE? Doesn’t it drive you crazy how she is so self-abasing and just wants others around her to be safe, even at her great detriment? That is completely my friend. I shirk from awkward or weak, but my friend, she would throw her vampire-super-power protection around all the people if she could. It freaks people out when my friend tells them she wants to write a devotional about Twilight, but honestly, I think she might be onto something. Other than Bella, the only person I can think of who used “super-protection” to cover over his family was Jesus. I’m sure that is what I’m really seeing in my friend; it’s her love for Jesus.
You are probably wondering why I would be worried that my jello-hearted, wonderfully compassionate friend was going on a mission trip. Well, there is one more thing you need to know about her.
If forgot to mention, my friend is obsessed with newborns. When we met, Anika was a newborn and my friend was enamored of her little fuzziness, her squashy face, her tiny wrinkles. She had a 5, 10, and 12 year old when we met, and she loves kids, but she was all eyes for that piggy little baby. Not an older cute, smiley baby. Not a baby who can sit up, keep its drool in its mouth, or grow teeth. She loves those babies with their waterlogged womb-skin still peeling off. She often talked about how she wanted to foster newborns someday. Consequently, even though she said she and her husband weren’t having more kids, I just had a feeling, she was gonna get over to that orphanage, pick up a baby, and get poked in the jello-heart. Then it would be all over. She’d have to get that sweet little brown baby over here, someway, somehow.
Well, I was pretty surprised what happened when she came home. First of all, she wasn’t talking about babies. She was definitely different, but she wasn’t weepy and mooning over some little infant. She was determined, inspired, and a little in love.
She’d met a girl, a teenager. She kept talking about this teenage girl, a 15 year old, who was so sweet, mature, and cherished by Jesus. A girl in the orphanage who my friend had heard someone describe with a word that . . . .well, they should not have used that word around my friend. This was like a big ol’ pitchfork in my friend’s jello-heart.
This Filipino girl had recently turned 15 and no adoption proceedings were underway. Because adoptions take well over a year typically, it was assumed that she would turn 16 (legal adulthood in the Philippines) and not be adopted. Thus, she was considered . . . . unadoptable. Reaching “adulthood” would put her in an increasingly vulnerable and insecure position. She needed protection, education, and a future, but those things were all pretty uncertain.
Last autumn went by. My friend mentioned this girl and their connection several more times. I calmly perceived that they’d become pen-pals or some such normal post-mission trip approved activity.
Finally in January, my friend told me that they were considering seeing if they could have the Filipino girl come for a visit in the summer, or even a year exchange program, or even, (there was about a -1% chance it was possible) ADOPTING HER. The thing was, by this point, this girl’s 16th birthday was a scant 8 months away. The summer visit or the exchange were a little more likely, but the adoption was such an insanely remote chance that if it worked out, surely it was God ordaining it.
I’ll confess. I love my friend, but I thought she was flipping out C-Rrazy (a tiny bit). I mean, WHATTT!!! People don’t just go on their first mission trip ever, meet teenage orphans, and adopt them in the space of a year. That is just . . I mean . . what!?!?
Ya know. The thing about jello is . . . it’s moldable. You can pour it into a mold and wait for just a short time and it comes out whatever shape you design it to be. Something tender won’t do that. Something hard definitely won’t do that. But something made of jello has a particular flare for being shaped. Something that is soft enough to be poured out and moved and changed can really be useful. And, incidentally, jello can also be shaped around whatever needs to fit into it, like a grape, or a maraschino cherry, or say, a person, if need be.
(Just to be clear though, in a non-metaphorical sense, please don’t put people in jello.)
Of course, we all know where this story is going now, right?
After a few months, and countless pieces of paper, and thousands of prayers, and texts, and e-mails, and dollars, my friend and her husband and three kids and the beautiful orphan girl from the Philippines managed to become a family.
Actually, let me rephrase that. They didn’t really manage to do it at all come to think of it. They ALLOWED God to make them a family –in spite of words like “unadoptable”, in spite of skeptical friends and family, in spite of cost, and time, and change, and worry, GOD really worked a miracle.
Last night I watched my friends brought their NOT QUITE YET 16 year old daughter down an escalator at Charlotte Douglas Airport to greet their other children and become a family of six. There was also a crowd of friends and fans just watching in awe as God did what he is SO amazing at . . . name changing, restoring, uniting, forming, redeeming, and shaping his people into beautiful families that surround, protect, and uphold one another, just like Jesus. (You thought I was going to say Jell-O again, didn’t you?)
God can mold us into amazing things . . . if we’re moldable.
Romans 8: 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.