Tales from the Road by Sue Badeau
Good morning. As you may have noticed from the bulletin, today is called “Adoption Sunday.” Many years ago, November was designated as National Adoption Month and churches were encouraged to celebrate one of the Sundays in November as Adoption Sunday. Although there are many aspects of adoption to reflect upon, the primary purpose for this was to have a day to raise awareness, particularly among people of faith, about the thousands of children who have not yet been adopted – children with no “forever family” of their own and to spur churches to take action to become leaders and champions for these children so that each and every child can have a home and family to belong to – not just to grow up in, but also to grow old in, We all need families, no matter what our age and God recognizes and even uses the adoption metaphor to describe our relationship to Him as we saw in the passage from Romans 8 which formed the basis for our Confession of faith this morning. And in our reading from Psalm 68 we are reminded that God himself knows that the Fatherless need a father and the lonely need a home.
Today in my sermon, I’ll share a few of the stories from my family’s own journey in the world of adoption– offering some life-lessons we’ve learned along the way, lessons that I hope will be both challenging and encouraging to you in your own life journeys.
To get started, I love this little brotherly exchange between Jacob and Esau as they were preparing for a road trip of their own: Let’s look at Genesis Chapter 33 verses 12-14
“Then Esau said, "Let us take our journey and go, and I will go before you." But Jacob said to him, "My lord knows that the children are frail and that the flocks and herds which are nursing are a care to me. And if they are driven hard one day, all the flocks will die. "Please let my lord pass on before his servant, and I will proceed at my leisure, according to the pace of the cattle that are before me and according to the pace of the children, until I come to my lord at Seir." Genesis 33:12-14
A few phrases in this passage stand out to me and reflect our goals as we share our own life journey with you. – Let’s start at verse 12
“Let us take our journey and go”. Let’s go! This implies action. How often do we have dreams, plans and goals, but we stay in place, dreaming, planning, praying and wishing, but not moving! One of the best moments of any road trip is getting everyone loaded into the vehicles and pulling out of the driveway. We’re on our way. We’re moving. It’s an exhilarating moment and I try to apply it to other situations in life when I know God has laid something on my heart.
Every child needs to be received into the loving arms of a nurturing family. This is the core message that my husband Hector and I have lived and breathed ever since he first opened our eyes to children in need of families not long after we were married 35 years ago. We were moved by a presentation at our church about the plight of orphaned children in India and we were so inspired that we walked to the closest adoption agency the very next morning saying, “We want to adopt a child from India.” We walked because we had no car. We were terribly young, naēve and had very little money. But we did not let those facts stop us. We heard the message and our response was, “Let’s go, let’s take action.”
We did end up adopting our son Raj, from India, as a result of our stepping out in faith that morning. Over the years, we not only added many more children to the family, but dedicated our professional lives to helping ensure that every child has a family of their own. Yet, the deeper we went into child advocacy the less certain we became about the effectiveness of our efforts. The needs often seem overwhelming and our efforts seem paltry in response. Do we make a difference? Is it worth continuing? It can be easy to feel impotent and stop moving forward. Standing still. Stuck.
That's how I was feeling not long ago when I was asked to consult on the case of a teenage boy. His story tugged at my heart and I decided to meet Henry personally. I drove in a thunderstorm to his group home. I spent hours there, late into the evening and something remarkable happened. As I listened to him, new ideas tumbled forth and opportunities for breaking down barriers and solving problems emerged. Henry’s hope was renewed.
A few months later, I learned that these efforts had paid off. Henry was at last home, with a family that will be his forever. The story has been told and re-told in professional circles, and listeners often react by applauding, acknowledging that Henry’s life was forever changed by events set in motion on that one rainy night. What they may not know is how the events of that night changed my life. My sagging spirit was renewed. I got “unstuck” and re-claimed the desire to “get moving” again.
I know that the invitation to visit Henry, like so many other situations in my life was really an invitation from God himself. It was His voice whispering to me – “Let’s go – get moving!” – Each time I hear this invitation, Do I have the faith and the courage to reply, as in our hymn this morning, “Here I Am Lord, send me . . . . ?” – Do you?
Let’s return to the text . . . the next phrase that strikes me is the second half of Verse 12:
“I will go before you” - What a tender moment in the story! Esau is promising his brother Jacob support, comfort, leadership and that he will not be lost or abandoned along the way. We know that God Himself always goes before us on our life journey. And yet, what I love about this verse is His reminder that He also provides flesh-and-blood people to go before us over rocky terrain. We need others as mentors, guides and companions. We need their leadership, expertise, experience and fellowship. Throughout our journey as foster and adoptive parents, God has sent many “Esaus” our way to “go before us” – as we learned how to cope with a child on a feeding tube, or a pregnant teen or sitting alongside a dying child as he draws his last breath.
We adopted Dylan when he was four years old. He was blind, had cerebral palsy, developmental disabilities, and other challenges. Yet, he was sweet, cheerful with a gentle spirit and contagious laugh. He loved music, family, camping trips, church, Christmas, Smurfs and sweet potatoes.
His medical challenges worsened over time. In early August of 2010, he was hospitalized, seriously ill and experiencing unbearable pain. He left the hospital with hospice care coming to our home. We knew this day would come, but that did not make it easier. We had lived through the death of one child, yet Adam died quickly and peacefully so we did not have a prolonged end-of-life journey with him. This was new territory.
From the moment Dylan got home he was peaceful and pain-free. With a few exceptions, he stayed this way until his death a week later. The “few exceptions” were two endless days when we were forced to watch him endure fear, anxiety and excruciating pain due to an unanticipated change in “doctor’s orders.” We felt helpless in the face of this crisis, so God sent an angel to stand with us, ministering to Dylan, casting out the demons of fear and pain, and giving him a song of peace.
Was this miracle-worker a doctor? Pastor? Faith-healer? No, Abby was an ordinary woman, a woman from a different faith tradition than our own and yet so profoundly sent by God to minister to us. We had prayed continuously for Dylan, and God answered our prayers in a most unexpected way. Isn’t it wonderful to know that God is bigger and more surprising than our own imaginations, expectations and fears?
What a precious gift to have sisters and brothers in faith go before us and travel with us. Now we are thankful that God is giving us the opportunity to “go before” and alongside others - including you this morning! What a privilege, opportunity and responsibility! Each time we share our journey with others, we find it also brings us closer to God. When the Esau’s in our life travel with us, it reminds us our hymn does, “then we know that God still goes the road with us”– I hope you are similarly blessed by the people of faith God has sent to share your walk with you.
The third phrase I’d like to reflect upon is in verse 14:
“I will proceed at my leisure according to the pace of the cattle . . .and of the children” -Slow down! This reminder from Jacob that it’s important to proceed at a pace that’s safe and nurturing for children – and cattle – in our lives is something I need to hear again and again – what about you? We live in a fast-paced world, we’re used to everything being instant from the news to text messages – we never want to wait. If we believe God is pointing us in a certain direction, we want to get there quickly. Yet sometimes God is suggesting, “slow down, go at the pace of the children . . . “
On one trip, when the kids were small, we hiked in the Appalachian Mountains. We covered a short distance on an easy walking trail, Hector and I each with a small child on our back, the rest of our little ones lurching ahead or straggling behind.
I noticed many hikers passing us. They were much better equipped with everything to make it to the top of the mountain. I grew envious, wondering if I’d ever make it to the top. As I looked over my motley crew, my eyes fixed on my small son with cerebral palsy - a child who was predicted to never walk - picking his way along the mountain path. My eyes filled with tears. I realized that he was every bit has successful as the pros with their fancy equipment. God taught me an important lesson that day - its not about getting to the top, its about putting one foot in front of the other, and continuing the climb.
Years later, as I stood at the foot of another mountain, at the finish line, waiting for our son George to cross, completing national collegiate cross country track competition, I was reminded of that lesson. George came to us with at the age of 7, with such many challenges and a psychologist who knew him told us, in front of George, “He may one day write his own name, but do not expect high school graduation.” As I stood at the bottom of that mountain, 16 years later, he had not only graduated from high school, but was enrolled in college and competing in national competition - its not about getting to the top of the mountain, its about putting one foot in front of the other, and continuing the climb – allowing the Word to be the lamp to our feet and the light to our path and just keep on moving forward even if you can’t see the full extent of where the path will go, knowing that Jesus loves ME, just as He loves each and every one of His children.
Are you ready to slow down today? To go at the pace of the children in your family, your congregation and your community?
Finally, let’s consider the last phrase of our passage, from verse 14:
“Until I come to my lord” – That's the real goal of the road trip isn’t it? To “come to our Lord.” God has shown Himself to us while on road trips in mighty ways including spectacular mountain vistas, and powerful ocean waves as well as in small tender moments, such as a neighboring camper taking interest in one of our medically fragile children, or a farmer we just met offering pony rides to our children. We have also met him in moments of crisis and distress such as when our brakes gave out in the Rocky Mountains and He carried us safely (on angel’s wings, I am certain) to the bottom of the mountain to a repair shop, or when our van died on a hot dusty day in Iowa and some sweet church ladies made us dinner while we waited for the van to be fixed.
Sometimes, while on our journey we get into accidents. Once, while on a short all-night road trip with one of my daughters and her infant son I was getting sleepy and fighting my eyelids as they kept threatening to close at three in the morning.
The next thing I knew, I was in a ditch, upside down, pinned between the steering wheel and door. My grandson was crying and my daughter was unconscious. I was terrified that we’d never get out. Who would see us at this hour? From time to time, Id’ see the glimmer of headlights on the road above. No one stopped.
Finally, a trucker stopped. I could hardly express my gratitude. He stayed with us until an ambulance came. My daughter was fine, and my grandson had a mild concussion. I had several broken bones including my right wrist. This required surgery and the insertion of metal pins. So, it’s fixed. But it’s not the same as it was before the accident. I can hardly ever open a jar to save my life!
What touched me so deeply was that the trucker stopped and stayed with us – not knowing if we could be saved, or “fixed.” It cost him time, took him out of his way, and set him back on his route. I think of him often when I get discouraged that I can’t always “fix” everything for my children, or when I don’t see complete healing from the damage and injuries they sustained early in their lives –whether it's the physical injuries such as Dylan’s who was a shaken baby, or some of the deeper emotional bruises so many of our kids sustained by all kinds of brutal early life experiences. I’m reminded to look beyond the “wreck” –to see hope and possibilities for healing, just as the trucker did for us.
We have learned that if we set out on our journey expecting to “come to our Lord” that He will indeed reveal himself to us every day along the way. Road trips will always be filled with delays, detours and even accidents. But when focused on God, and asking him to allow us to Live each Day so he can use us- these detours or accidents can become “teachable moments”, parables for our lives from God’s rich treasure trove - not simply hassles, stress or trauma to be endured. Sometimes we discover that what we thought was a detour or terrible accident was actually the best way to “come to our Lord” in the midst of the journey.
Its my hope that each of you listening today will have experiences in your own journey where you can “come to your Lord” in unique, personal and meaningful ways.
These are just a few of the lessons we’ve learned from taking road trips with our family. The precious memories have endured and continue to nourish us as we re-live and remember them – we are filled with laughter, tears, and gratitude. As I close I circle back to our the themes of our passage from Genesis and encourage all of us to:
Get up and get moving,
walk with the people God has placed in our lives,
slow down to the pace of the children and
always seek to “come to our Lord.”