I ended up on her doorstep. It was the end of my junior year of high school and getting along with him was becoming too challenging. We had moved and I hated being apart from two of my three sisters. I was living with my Dad and my sister fours years younger, while my other two sisters moved with their Mom, my step Mom, to another apartment a few miles away. The idea was to move apart in order to allow the space needed for parents to be able to move forward and eventually back together. Of course that logic made no sense and the lack of congruity created nothing but anxiety, worry and turmoil. My pain was excruciating and as the family mediator trying to protect and rescue all parties, I was sinking and totally unable to trust or honor my Dad and step Mom and their selfish choices. I needed someone to validate the pain myself and my sisters were feeling. I needed a signed contract that living apart would eventually bring us all back together, but of course it was clear that the separation would be the beginning of the end. My attitudes and lack of respect flared and finally an argument with my Dad lead to me walking out the door and down the street to the neighbor and friend who had stood by our family and me through thick and thin.
She was a widowed mother of two sons I had grown up with for years. They were like brothers and we shared walks to school, extracurricular activities and holiday picnics in the neighborhood. Their Dad passed away when they were in elementary school and as a young girl I was acutely aware of how hard their Mom worked to make their lives feel whole. There I was standing at the door, tears streaming with little hope of the pain going away. Anne opened the door and I fell into her arms. I sobbed and sobbed until finally I remember her boys oferring me lemonade and a place on the couch to sit and relax. They knew my story, all of it. Anne knew that I had lost one mother to mental illness and her fleeing when I was young and now my step mother and my Dad were not going to make it. Trust was not my strong suite but I loved Anne, her wit and charisma and I wanted to trust her. She always cared for me and my sisters and she chose my side during times when I needed it most.
Anne was a one of kind woman. She could cook and create anything with only a few minutes notice. She was kooky and zany, loved to play card games and was downright loud as she aged. She would state her opinion to any and all who might listen and engaged with everyone in her daily outings. She was an exceptional storyteller and the number of jokes she could easily recall from memory could make a stand up comedian feel like a fail. I was drawn to Anne as a little girl and I blame her for getting me hooked on all things Halloween. She was the lady who would dress like a witch, stirring her big black caldron on the front porch, complete with lights and fog and creepy sound effects. She really was something. Today is her birthday and every May I pine for a few moments to show her how far I have come in working through and even beyond much of the pain. I wish she could see my immediate family today and see how aspects of my life mimic the unconditional love she showed me back many years ago when I needed her open heart to love me and take me in.
I remained with Anne and her boys for 364 days. Her home while not perfect was a place of refuge for me and her support was strong. She helped me to believe in myself through my senior year of high school and her boys were so wonderful in their willingness to share their home. Our time together was wild and many nights Anne would yell from the bottom of the steps and we would scramble to our own rooms quickly quieting the Phil Collins music. We drove her crazy and our needs were great yet she never wavered. I was hers, the daughter she never had and she was mine, a mother figure who would never leave no matter my attitudes or behavior. Her love took me in bruises and all. Without paperwork I was adopted by Anne and her boys and their willingness to help gave me a hope and a focus at a pivotal time in my life. I spent the summer and early fall of my senior year preparing for the ACT right alongside Anne’s son and then soared through my senior year feeling safe and supported. I was in Anne’s family room on the day I opened my college acceptance letter and it was Anne who helped me to role play better ways to interact with my broken family. It was Anne who would encourage me to reconcile with my Dad and to learn from the mistakes I had watched adults make over and over again in my family.
I am frequently asked how we came to adopt. We had three biological sons, our plate was full and we had more going on than we could handle most days, yet the call to adopt rang loud. Even when we tried to ignore God’s plea (just keeping it real) I was quickly brought back to people such as Anne who said yes to me. She said yes to housing me, feeding me, nurturing me and caring for me in unconditional ways. She said yes to broken teenage me who at the time could give little back and I thank God she said yes when she did. She modeled yes for me and it was God’s perfect design that many years later I would also be asked to say yes. I was asked to bring home a baby at age 41. Good grief I never saw that one coming! Then we were asked to say yes again to a boy we loved who had grown up alone in Ethiopia. He was 17. What in the world? The doors were opened and the writing on the wall crystal clear that in spite of the compromise and the tremendous work required we were being asked to say yes again.
I am so honored to have done life with Anne and while I wish she were still here I rest knowing she is heavenward playing a mean game of scrabble and smiling down on the those of us still here trudging through the good, bad and ugly. Thank you Anne for pouring into me so I could follow in your footsteps and do my best to pay your example forward. You blessed me helping me to see that I could bless others.
Peace and grace in the weekend ahead,