I don’t often get text messages at 6 am. I rolled over, rubbed my eyes, and picked up my phone. The message was from my Aunt Deb, my mom’s sister. When I get messages from her in the morning, I know she’s up praying and reading and thinking because that’s what she does when she can’t sleep. Some of the most encouraging words have come to me from those early morning times in her life.
The text was about her mom, my grandmother. October 1 was her birthday and if she were still living she would’ve just turned 84. She’s been gone 7 years now and I think about her often, not just on her birthday or when my aunt texts me. She was a remarkable woman.. she was fiery and outspoken and very committed to her beliefs. In the latter part of her life, she continued to drive her blue sports car (with fire painted on the sides). She still wore her jewelry and got her acrylic nails painted for the season or the month. Sometimes they even had little “jewels” glued to them. She helped with the “old people” at church and chaperoned mission trips for teenagers. She showed us a video of her doing a ropes challenge on the trip to Australia. We couldn’t believe she did it. “Well it was a team building exercise and I was part of the team.” She loved to play cards and even when we were 5 she would show us no mercy and win every time. She was quite the character and also one of the strongest, most dedicated women I’ve known. She loved my grandpa with every fiber of her being. We all wondered how she’d do when he passed, but she pressed on with determination, doing many of the things she had no been able to do when she younger (like traveling) and other things she also felt were really important (like teaching literacy classes).
She was remarkable. She was also an orphan.
Grandma’s mother left her three girls. Her dad tried to hold things together, but couldn’t. Then she and her two younger sisters lived with their grandmother until she could no longer care for them and then they were taken to the orphanage. My grandmother at 5 watched her two younger sisters get adopted, but being an older child she wasn’t chosen. She spent her entire childhood living there. No one ever decided to make her their child.
Thankfully, along the way God put good, kind people in her path. She talked about a man in her church who would weekly press a nickel into her hand and tell her that every girl needed a little “spending money”. When she graduated a pastor and his wife took her in and gave her a place to live so she could go to college and work for her rent by helping them with their newborn twins.
So she went to college at a time when few women had the opportunity and she met Grandpa and made a life for herself. She had eight children and although she’d had very little experience being in a family and very few models for how to parent, she did it.. not perfectly, but she did it. She gave her children a better life than she’d had and through them she left a legacy of faith and family and sacrifice.
Being an orphan isn’t the most important thing about her life; not by a long shot. But it did affect her life. When she was lucid for periods of time in her sickness and dying, the words she spoke were rooted in the experience of being that orphaned little girl she had been 70 years before.
If failings and bad patterns are often passed down through generations of families, than good character and Godly traits can be too. Grandma knew what it was to be separated from siblings; she knew the pain of not being chosen; she knew how hard and sad life could be when a parent couldn’t take care of their children like they needed; she understood the void that grows in a child when they don’t have a family. She didn’t let it sour her. Instead, she poured her life into those society marginalizes. She taught classes in English to people who needed to pass a GED and immigrants who needed to learn the language to survive. She loved them and listened to them and spent time with them. She loved her trip to Australia because they were serving the Aboriginal people, who are outcasts, and she loved them.
My parents have a soft heartedness toward children that is striking. They have adopted four sons and taken in many more children than I recount. I hear my mom’s heart for the children she works with.. the ones who are dirty week after week, who have disabilities or difficult personalities. Something in her loves the ones others find hard to love. My dad mentors tween age kids and its impossible not to see how much he cares about them and what it difference it makes in their lives.
I think that what the Evil One wanted to use in my Grandmother’s life… that feeling of hopelessness and of not being chosen…I see how the love of Jesus has cleansed the hurt and made it a beautiful kindness that Grandma was able to pass down to her children.
I’ve often thought about why we want to adopt. I get asked a lot now that people know we plan to adopt. I could make a long list of reasons that are all true, but I think the roots of that desire were planted in me as my parents lived out the redemption Jesus accomplished through that little orphaned girl who was my Grandma.
In her text last Tuesday morning, the would be birthday of Clydella Holzbauer, Debbie asked, “I wonder how different her life would’ve been if someone would’ve had it in their heart to adopt her? I wonder how different her life would’ve been if she and her sisters had come into the life of a family like yours?”
My grandmother persevered. She overcame. She pushed ahead and did well for herself. For that, I give her so much respect. And to Jesus I give the glory because He sought her out, He was her strength, He loved her, and He made it all possible. Still, with all of that being true, in her last moments she was taken back to her childhood and the thoughts on her mind were about not being adopted. She told (maybe for the first time ever) stories about the horrible things that had happened in that orphanage. She shared her fears and insecurities. She wondered where her sisters were…
I’ve been thinking about those questions Aunt Deb posed to me last week. Jesus redeemed it ALL. Saying that, as true and right as it is, doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t have changed her life to have been adopted. It would’ve. Jesus still would have pursued and known and loved her. I have no doubt about that. But no one can argue it wouldn’t have been better for her to have found a family that could have loved and supported and provided for her and protected her. No one can say it wouldn’t have been wonderful for her and her sisters to have grown up together, sharing their history and lives, rather than never being able to find each other.
Grandma’s life in adulthood was happy and purposeful and full to the brim with children and grandchildren and even great grandchildren. But the wound from her childhood was far reaching. The goodness out shown the grim beginning of her life, but it didn’t erase it.
In my heart this week I’ve just been thinking about Grandma as a child. I’ve been wondering how she was like or unlike the children I’ve worked with or the barefooted child I saw running around in the store last summer or the children our adoption agent tells us about.
I didn’t chose to adopt. It was already in me. I know it won’t be Clydella and her sisters that we welcome children into our family, but I am sure when that days comes, she will be the one on my mind.
Whether you ever adopt or not, there are a whole world full of children (and adults!) who need families and friends and support. They are all around you… at the grocery store, in your church community, living a stone’s throw from your house. It is easy to overlook them. We are all busy with our own lives and distracted by facebook and our iPhones and the news. It takes effort– real effort– to engage them.
Some of us will have the desire to adopt planted in our hearts by the One who willingly adopted us as His own. Others will get the chance to be the person who gives a small gift and a kind word to someone who needs it, even if its just acknowledging their worth with “spending money”. You might get the chance to give someone temporary work or a temporary home so they can move forward in their life. There are a great number of opportunities all around us to impart love and compassion and care to others.
You never know how much a small gesture can impact a person and alter their life. You just never know… you might be caring for someone who will grow up to love Jesus and raise children who do good in the world. You might be the only encouragement for someone who will later give back by teaching the marginalized how to read.
You might press a nickel into the hand of a little girl who doesn’t know she’s loved and alter the course of her family for generations.
So, a week late, I want to honor the day Clydella Holzbauer was born. I want to remember her spunky, driven spirit. I want to thank those I whose names I don’t know for giving her little tokens of love early in her life when she desperately needed to know she mattered. I want to give major props to my Grandfather who loved her every second of every day with all of himself until the day he died. His love healed her the way a husband’s can. And I want to praise Jesus for dying to make a way for us all, even those we consider the “least”.
We love and miss you, Clydella. So glad Jesus chose to give you my mom and give me to her. Your legacy has changed my life.