To Love a Rose: An Ethiopian Adoption Journal

Friday, August 16, 2013


Photo copyright 2013.

Today, I am broken...but it is beautiful.

Ten days ago we were supposed to be celebrating 35 years of my parents' marriage on a beach in Florida.  It was mom's "redemption wedding" - the dream day she never got to experience all those years ago; because her vast, party-planning imagination had been hindered by finances and time and hostile in-laws-to-be.  

This time it was going to be beautiful, romantic, and unforgettable - the men would wear sand-colored, linen suits, the girls would don ocean-blue chiffon gowns.  Dad would wait for her under a shimmering altar of twinkle lights as she walked toward him (just like she did on that August day as an 18-year-old bride) in her glamorous, satin and chiffon gown sparkling with seed beads and tiny sequins.

It would have been a glorious day, I'm sure of it.

As I stood in the shower at my parents' house (my dad's house?  it sounds so strange and wrong to say it that way) today, I found myself melting into a puddle of tears again...

This happens often while I'm bathing, simply because it's one of the only times I'm ever truly alone.  It's not that I suffer in silence; in fact, I've always been very open and honest about any struggles or emotions that I'm wading through.  Even so, I find myself crouched in a corner of the shower, whimpering like a lost, little child more often than I care to acknowledge.  I tuck my knees up under my chin, turn the water temperature up to near-scalding, and drown my sobs in the cacophony of the deluge splashing against tile.

I didn't know I was going to have a cry-fest today, but I wasn't surprised when the tears began to choke me.  What did surprise me a bit was the emotional impetus behind them; because for the first time in a long while, instead of crying over sadness, my heart was exploding with gratitude and an overwhelming sense of God's unfailing love.

My arms raised over my head, and I began softly singing praise songs in the glassed-in shower I shared with my middle sister from high school until I left for college.  My voice cracked and croaked through my tears; but I couldn't stop smiling, to the point that my face began to ache.

Ever since mom passed in March, I have been broken - truly shattered - by Abba God's immense capacity for grace and mercy.  I realize that this statement seems strange, and it's nearly impossible to explain sufficiently in human language; but I am learning more and more that sometimes "no" is the answer to prayer that holds the most grace, and sometimes "death" is the gift of truest mercy.

My 53-year-old mother fought for her life with the ferocity of a mama bear defending her cubs or a lioness on the Serengeti who is in desperate need of food for her young.  Her doctors continually said that she was stronger and more determined than anyone they had ever encountered of any age and either gender.  When she arrived at the hospital in November of 2011, they gave her four days to live.  Instead, she survived treatment, went into parts-per-million remission, had a stem cell transplant, endured respiratory failure/TTP/renal failure/GVHD, and lived another year and a half.  In short, she was one tough b*tch; and I say that with tremendous respect.


The morning of March 7th of this year in Zion, IL, we pulled the curtains in mom's enormous hospital room in the stem cell unit of the Cancer Treatment Center of America to an absolutely gorgeous sight.  After weeks of gloomy, dreary winter days, the sun was shining brightly and the clouds were beautiful, puffy cotton candy against an azure sky.  It was a "Kerry" (my mom) kind of day, as if she had special ordered it just for this occasion.

My family was beyond exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally at this point.  We had been up with mom (at this point lying in a drug-induced coma and hooked to a breathing machine working at full capacity) for 15+ hours straight - there was not a moment that she was not being touched, prayed over, or sung to - it was beautiful and it was horrible all at once.

One of mom's doctors took us down the hall to an empty room "to talk".  I gazed around at my family - my dad, my sisters, my brother-in-law, my husband...everyone had bloodshot, wild eyes and everyone seemed to know what he was about to say.

"We've done all we can...God needs to perform a miracle, or she will pass and very soon."

I wasn't shocked...I think God had been preparing my heart for this for a while; but to hear it said so honestly was heart-breaking.  All I could think of were my last moments with her...

She had not had the greatest day, her breathing was immensely labored and her tachycardia was out of control causing her to have incomplete heartbeats one after another.  Although the cancer was completely gone and her stem cells were officially entirely integrated into her system, she was trapped within a body that had the immune response of a newborn baby.  Consequently, when she was hit with a bout of sepsis then bi-lateral pneumonia, it was more than her fragile new immune system could endure.  I cannot even imagine how odd she must have felt; how terrible it must feel to gasp for every breath...

She looked at me and begged me not to go back to the hotel that night and said that she "felt so weird".  Her nurse and I tried to discover why, but it was too late.  Within seconds she was in complete and total respiratory failure - they needed to intubate.  As the respiratory doctor and his team rushed in, I saw his face turn pale and his eyes despondent, "Is there anything you want to say to her?"  He said to me in a hushed, serious tone.

"What?"  I was in shock; I couldn't think straight - she had been intubated before and made it through, but this was different, I could tell.

His hand grabbed my arm firmly yet gently and directed me toward my mom's bedside, "You should go say something to her."

"Oh my God, yes - of course!"  I rushed to my mom's left side, very near her ear so she could hear me over the commotion around us.  Her head was bobbing as though she was going to pass out and she had nurses and respiratory staff all around her already.  I grabbed her left hand gently and spoke louder than I would have liked, "Mom, they're going to intubate you so you can breathe, okay?  It's going to help you.  I love you so much!"

And that was it.  We were shoved out of the room and watched from the hallway as they intubated mom.  I could hear her say something to one of the nurses, but it was too loud for me to catch exactly what she said...those were her last words here on earth.

Forty-eight hours later, I stood over my mother, repeating the last few verses of Psalm 91 over her bruised and battered body.  The gravity of the situation began to overwhelm me: 1.) I had said my last words to the woman who had birthed me two days before.  2.) She was going to pass. 3.) I would have to live the rest of my life without her physically here. 4.) My son and other future children would never know their grandmother in this life. 5.) My father was going to be a widower.  6.) Nothing would ever be the same again. 7.) This. Was. Happening.

My sister, M, was singing a line from a spontaneous worship song over and over again, "Let your glory come and fill this place, let your glory come and overtake..."  I kept thinking, "Is this glory?"  And yet, even in that moment of soul-shaking, heart-pounding, gut-wrenching sorrow I somehow knew that it truly was.

Everyone had said their good-byes, and the doctors had told us to unplug the machines.  We surrounded her bed with all of us family members, several nurses, and one of her doctors; and we all just touched her and prayed and sang.  We had the hospital chaplain (who had become a very dear friend) on speaker phone since she was out of town; and she was ending a prayer, "In Jesus' name PEACE, in Jesus' name PEACE, in Jesus' name PEACE...".  She said it over and over and over again, and sometime in that 4 minute prayer, my mother drifted so tranquilly from this world that no one in the room even knew the event had occurred - we had to be told by a nurse from the station in the hallway.

There was no need to turn off any machines, my mother did the impossible and passed from this world without the need for something dramatic like that...her death was probably the most peaceful and most graceful act of her entire life.

They had brought us a bereavement tray outside; which M had refused to use, because "they only bring it when someone is dying", and we had all been fiercely denying that this would be mom's reality.  But after the phone calls and arrangements had been made, I walked to the cart to make myself a tea.

"Are you really going to use that stupid tray?" she asked me.

"Yes," I retorted defiantly mid-pour. "I'm using this f*cking tray!"

Not my best moment, but I was raw.  We all were.

Like a crazed lunch-lady, I wheeled the tray into my mom's room, right next to her bed where her body still lay and grabbed my tea and a muffin.  I pulled up one of the extra folding chairs they had brought in during the night, and I sat there eating my makeshift breakfast next to my mother's shell of a body, talking to her as if she were still there.  My sisters joined me, and it was oddly nice.  We told mom we knew she had waited for this beautiful day, and we joked about how she tricked us and left when we didn't notice.  True, we were probably delirious with sleep deprivation; but I think we honestly enjoyed those last few moments with her body.   

For the first time in years, I wasn't worried about her.  I wasn't watching her monitors checking her pulse, blood pressure, or oxygenation levels.  I didn't have to calculate in my head what any of that meant.  I didn't have to search her face for visible signs of pain or distress.  None of that mattered anymore; she was at peace, and she always would be.


To many, I'm sure my mother's death looked a lot like losing.  To those who don't understand, I'm sure it looked much like unanswered prayers and lost dreams.  To outsiders, I'm sure it looked like the definition of grief and fear and anger and disappointment and loss.

But looks can be deceiving.

"Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see...By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible."  (Hebrews 11:1 & 3, NIV)

I think sometimes people (and myself included) assume that this verse means that if we only have enough faith, God will answer our prayers just the way we want Him to, exactly when we expect Him to.  Now, PLEASE, do NOT take this the wrong way!  I know and trust and believe that our Abba in Heaven is mighty to save and heal and answer any prayers that you send His way; BUT, I am learning more and more that my faith should not be contingent upon His ability to answer my prayers and give me what I want, His mightiness is not based on what He does for me, and His holiness and worthiness to be praised is not defined by how much He blesses me.  

Whether I live or whether I die, GOD IS STILL GOOD - ALWAYS.  Whether He answers my prayers or not, HE IS STILL THE KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.  Whether He blesses me beyond measure is irrelevant in regards to His ability to do so.

Regardless of my circumstances or trials or blessings or lack thereof, nothing can remove the power of the cross and Christ's ultimate act of love and sacrifice.

"There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreatedthe world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.  These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect." (Hebrews 11:35-40, NIV)

Sometimes the most gentlemanly, good-daddy, merciful act of grace God can perform is to say "no" to my prayers.

Just because God didn't answer my prayer to restore my mother, doesn't meant He didn't perform an act of mercy for her.  My unanswered prayer might have been her greatest desire.  I can't imagine what it must have felt like to be stuck in her body - she was in so much pain and was facing kidney dialysis for the rest of her life (she despised dialysis and was in great pain when they did her daily treatment) and intensive physical therapy to learn how to walk again for the second time post-transplant - death was the greatest mercy He could have afforded her.

I know my mother was given a choice in the end.  Some people will probably disagree with me; but as I watched her final moments,  I truly believe my mother made the choice to exit her fleshly jail cell so she could enjoy the unspeakable freedom of eternal life.   As soon as the nephrologist announced loudly in her room that it was "time for dialysis!" her numbers slipped quickly.  I know subconsciously (or perhaps very CONSCIOUSLY) she was deciding that she did not want to endure that ever again, that we would all be okay in the end, and that she was ready to go home. He let her go peacefully when everyone said it would be painful and terrible to watch let alone experience.

What amazing grace!  What unfailing love!

The same Jehovah Jireh who provided a perfect, 10 out of 10 rating stem cell donor from half-way around the world in France when the doctors were afraid they might never find her a suitable match due to her tricky biological heritage...the same Jehovah Rapha who had HEALED her of stage four Philadelphia positive, adult, acute lymphoblastic leukemia even in the parts-per-million of her cells (this only happens to 1% of patients in her position)...the same Abba God who had answered her prayers and shown her so many miracles was allowing her to come home to His loving arms. 

She had run her race with dignity and strength and tremendous endurance; and she had earned her resurrection with grace.  She is where we are all striving to be.  She is in the eternal city of hope and peace.

I stood in the shower today consumed by the blazing inferno of my Abba's great love for me.  He has been faithful to keep His promise time and again these past five months, "I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you." (John 14:18, KJV).  In so many ways, He has been gently soothing all the aches and broken places in my heart...whispering His great love for me in the quiet moments, because He knows that's when I hear Him best.  He has been so good to me, and I am so grateful.

On the outside, it looks like cancer won, that hurt won, that loss won, that death won in my mom's life and circumstances.

But I'm on the inside, and I'm here to tell you that in reality LOVE WON.


I am certain of this just as I am certain that she is more alive right now than you or I.

Our great Abba's love is UNFAILING (really let the weight of that word impress itself upon you for a moment - amazing right?!).  

Love is louder, love is stronger, love is more powerful than anything we will encounter - even death.

"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39, NIV).

I LOVE you, mom.  Until eternity starts for me, you're here in my heart.

With a Heart Full of Love,


  1. Many heart felt tears as I read this Mandie as I went through much of the same. It took me a very long time to realize that God did answer my prayer for one last Miracle for Jimmy. I prayed that he would be healed and free of pain as I was begging for just one last miracle and as I was crying one day, God showed me that he gave me that one last Miracle. He took Jimmy home where he is now healed and will never be in pain again. How awesome it must be to be with Jesus and hearing the angles sing and knowing that there will be no more suffering, only peace and love at all times. God Bless You my friend. Love and Prayers Always.

  2. Oh Mary, you are so dear to me. I know mom and Jimmy are enjoying themselves up there so much - feeling better than they ever did here on earth. I felt so blessed to be there with you just moments after Jimmy left this world, it was a glimpse into my future and also a lesson in compassion that I will never forget. I love you muchly, and I am so happy for you and your exciting future ahead. :)

  3. Beautiful blog post. Tears streaming down my face. Amazing to think of you momma sitting with our Savior now. Saw your t-shirts on our Korea fb group and followed it to your post. I too am waiting for my son to come home. Praying for you! Honored to read such a beautiful account of your time with your family and encouraged by your humble honesty and trust in the Lord!

  4. Meant to say "Amazing to think of your momma sitting with our Savior now." Praying for God's comfort as I'm sure you miss her so much. Heaven is going to be so wonderful someday.

  5. I could hardly make it to the end of this post for the tears in my eyes. I know your mother suffered greatly, but I'm so happy to know that her life ended with such beauty - surrounded by love and leaving this world peacefully. You have a truly amazing family and I'm always touched to read about your incredibly strong love for each other. Everyone should be so fortunate.