A Lamp For My Feet

Amy Zacaroli

Archive for the category “Family”

Remarkable Purpose

I have a remarkable birth and adoption story that my family and I have told countless times to friends and strangers. It is interesting, unusual and touching. All my life, in the retelling of this story, I have given credit to God for saving me from a sad and harsh beginning and delivering me into the arms of a loving family.

But I have never been able to let go of the idea that I was an accident, a mistake.

I was born to 19-year-old Abbie, the oldest daughter of an Episcopal priest. She had gone off to college and in the first semester met a boy. By Christmas break she had to tell her family she was pregnant. With her dad being an Episcopal priest in the mid-1960s, there was more involved than just family dynamics and choices – the church had to be considered. So Abbie went to “visit her aunt in Florida,” the story the church heard. But truthfully Abbie was sent to live in a Florence Crittendon house for unwed pregnant girls in Washington, D.C. When I was born, she signed away her rights to me and I was placed in the foster care system. She went back home, where no one spoke about it again for 30 years.

Lutheran Social Services placed me in a family who had their own biological children and other foster children. It turned out to be a place of neglect and abuse. By the age of 2 ½, I was having grand mal seizures daily. I did not speak. I was not toilet trained, despite their efforts by tying me to the toilet. I was deathly afraid of dogs and water. I had a cataract in one eye, which was removed surgically when I was a baby, but they did not follow up with the prescribed physical therapy. The family concluded I was “mentally retarded,” a phrase that was common then to describe an umbrella of issues. Lutheran Social Services agreed, deemed me unadoptable and then looked for a safe place for me to stay temporarily.

The social worker knew a family in her church, a couple with three young children. The wife had just suffered a miscarriage. The social worker approached the family, who

Circa 1970

Circa 1970

opened their arms and their hearts to me. Thus began my journey out of darkness into healing. From the first day I arrived in my new home, I never had a seizure. My new mom threw away the huge bottle of phenobarbital I had been prescribed to prevent the seizures. While I had some emotional issues to overcome, my family quickly realized I was not mentally retarded. In the next few years I was rehabilitated, not through doctors and therapy, but through the love a family had for an orphan. And finally, when I was 5 years old, they adopted me and I legally became what God always intended for me to be – their daughter. In the retelling of the story, my mom always gets emotional, as she concludes the story with, “All she needed was some tender loving care” — something so basic and so easily given.

I have always been grateful to my parents and to God for saving me from disastrous consequences that could have included being institutionalized. Yet I have always been troubled by the fact that I was an accident, a mistake — that my mere presence at conception caused so much angst and turmoil and forever changed the trajectory of my birth parents’ lives.

Recently, as I was pondering my birth story, God gave me a new perspective on it – His. I have always approached this story from the angle of how my birth affected the people around me – that at first I was a mistake and was the cause of grief and then as a baby was unwanted, unloved. And then my family and I were given a second chance.

But what if I took one step back – before conception – and approach the story from God’s perspective?

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Psalm 139:13-16:

“For you created my inmost being;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

your works are wonderful,

I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you

when I was made in the secret place,

when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw my unformed body;

all the days ordained for me were written in your book

before one of them came to be.”

I have always been comforted by this passage and in fact shared it with other adoptees. But I could never fully believe this truth. I never allowed myself to believe that God really did plan me, since people on this earth did not. How could my awful beginning be something God planned?

And then God gave me the answer recently:

Even if my birth parents did not plan me, God did. He knit me together in Abbie’s womb. He did not knit me anyway or accidentally, He knit me ON PURPOSE! He chose them to give me the DNA to fulfill His purposes for me. Even though my presence at conception probably scared, disappointed, and shamed Abbie and those around her, God Himself was not scared of me, disappointed in me, ashamed of me. Just the opposite! That realization took 47 years to be born, but now it has freed me.

He has plans for me that I had been too timid to chase because I was relying on my pitiful self, a person who according to human ways was not intended to be born. But God has made me whole. I am nothing on my own – but everything when I am with Him.

This truth does not just apply to me. It applies to you as well. God knit you in your mother’s womb for His purpose. He created you to do something only you can do – but not on your own. He wants you and me and all of us to humble ourselves and put Him first so that His power and good works can live through us.

This truth applies to everyone who has lived, is living, and will live. God knit together everyone — the orphan in rural Africa, the beggar on the 14th Street Bridge and that crazy cat lady in your neighborhood. Each of us, each of them, are all His, planned for a purpose – no accidents, no mistakes.

That is a remarkable birth and adoption story for all of us.

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Leaving the Nest

I am not the overdramatic type. I am steady and smooth, most of the time.
Only sometimes can I be like Miranda Lambert trying to hide her crazy after a breakup.
I take things in stride. My kids get fevers… I wait a few days before taking them to the doctor. This is good for their bodies to fight whatever infection is inside them. It is better in the long run for them to fight the infection inside them than for me to take away their immediate pain with Tylenol or antibiotics. I do not hover and do their homework for them. I may make sure they get it done, even though I may not be pleased with the outcome. They know my opinions, but they do their own work. I do not worry that a large mole on my daughter’s leg is cancerous, but we get it removed anyway. I do not relive every dream I never achieved as a child through my very talented gymnast daughter. I drop her off at the gym and pick her up 5 hours later. I attend her meets, but don’t get nervous for her. She’s nervous enough without a crazy mom. My son plays baseball but I don’t kiss up to the coaches to make sure he plays every inning. He can earn his own space on the playing field.
I let them out of my sight… but I know where they are… most of the time.
I do, however, get emotional at cotton commercials. I laugh out loud obnoxious at the Mom song on YouTube. I cry during grace at dinner. I pray for each of my kids earnestly in the hard times. At home I scream. I rant. I hug. I beg for affection from the one who does not hand out hugs so easily.
My oldest is going off to college in 13 days. In some ways, I can’t wait. He has become the one who gets up late, after my day is half over, who wants to talk late at night when I’m spent and want to sleep. His room is messy. His bathroom is less than clean.
We are driving to the beach tomorrow for one last week together as a whole family before he heads off to college. We are getting up early. We are packing tonight. Laundry has been going all day… and his is last in line. He slept all afternoon instead of packing and laundry and doing his chores. After dinner he asks to go out with his friends.
I hit the roof.

His first day of Kindergarten he was so nervous that he vomited up his breakfast. He thought he was sick and couldn’t go to school. I did not keep him home. We walked to school with my best friend and her oldest daughter who was also going to her first day of kindergarten. We held it together as we waved goodbye to the little bodies with their oversize backpacks and clean new sneakers. first day of first gradeWe held it together on the walk home pushing the babies in the stroller, pretending like it was any ordinary walk home. It wasn’t until I got in the house and my retired neighbor called and asked how the first day of school went that I completely lost it… I cried like a baby sending my oldest off to Kindergarten.
But then three more babies came along – I am sure I cried when my second one went. Really don’t remember the third. By the time the fourth one got on the bus, I was skipping joyfully home to at last breathe my own oxygen for the first time in a decade.
So I’ve been breathing my own air now… a little at a time. More so when he goes off to the university he’s dreamed about since he was in elementary school. I am so proud of him. He worked hard in high school. He had fun – he played in the band, he marched at football games we all attended. Every Friday night in autumn we had family night at the football field. In Spring all his little sisters cheered for him to take his turn at bat. He came home, did his homework, earned high grades, chose good friends, helped out around the house, never caused trouble. Got up for church every Sunday.
And in 13 days he goes off to college. He’s leaving. He will never be a full-time part of our senior pichousehold again. He is stepping off the edge of the nest and he’s opening his wings to fly on his own. And as cool and calm and collected as I’ve always been as a mom (not a worrier, not a helicopter mom, involved, but not too much) I am a total wreck.
I am flashing back to the entire year spent trying to conceive him. How every month, somehow I failed. Then when I forgot about it, suddenly he was there. How I kept exercising even when pregnant. His dad told me to stop doing sit ups because the baby might come out flat. How I kept playing softball on the church team and the church secretary yelled at me for stealing second. How he came five weeks early – a very long, hard birth. Hard on him – blue and bruised with a flat nose from 2 hours of pushing. A week spent in NICU, but still the largest baby there. The doctors wanted to discharge me after two days. I’m not leaving without my baby, I said. I stayed in the hospital, renting a room, so I could try to nurse him, be with him, not leave him.
He was such an easy baby. Slept through the night early. Happy most of the time. Running. Chasing balls. Pleasant. Forgiving. Hopeful. Pliable, even when his father and I divorced. He adjusted to two households. He was like a duck, he may have been paddling like crazy underneath, but his feathers were never ruffled. He adjusted to the split, packed his bags each night accordingly. He never forgot anything he needed for the next two or three days. Then his father and I got on with our lives and remarried. He acquired two step parents, whom he loves and respects. And we begat girls, his four little sisters. That last one, oh, how he wished she would have been a brother. But 8 years later, we can’t imagine our lives without Nick and his four little sisters.

Tonight I throw a tantrum. “No, you can’t go out with your friends the day before we leave for the beach. You didn’t help around the house. You didn’t unload the dishwasher even though it was your turn and you slept all afternoon. You are not packed and we are leaving at 6 a.m. No way! You always think you can come and go as you please with no regard for us.”
I stomp off in a huff that quickly dissolves into uncontrollable sobbing that he can hear. I bounce my suitcase down the curved stair case, slamming it into the wall as I turn the corner in a blur. Out in the garage, I throw every bag into the back of the van, leaving room for the cooler I will pack tomorrow. His suitcase is at the bottom, still half-packed, knowing he will want to add to it later when his laundry is dry. But when? At 1 a.m. when he’s back from the movies with his friends and I’m fast asleep?
Alec comes out and I am still a sobbing mess. “Stop,” he says, taking my arms, gently, his big brown eyes pleading with me to come to my senses or at least explain. “It’s not about tonight,” I say. “It’s that he’s leaving in 13 days.” He nods, knowingly, as wonderful husbands do.
“Come inside and let’s pray.” We walk inside and my only son is sitting at the counter with tears in his eyes because I can’t hide my crazy. I make myself a new puddle of tears, killing myself that I’ve made him cry on the last night he can spend with his high school friends.
We pray. I become centered again. The strong mom. Together. Steady. Cool and calm.
And he goes off to meet his friends with tears still drying on his cheeks.
Isn’t that how you and I started college? How we all left the nest? Equipped, ready, but still sad.
Fly, my son. Fly.
It is your time. You are ready.
And so am I, almost.

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