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It is one of those days when I’m a thousand miles from home attempting to navigate through the latest winter storm, wondering where I’ll lay my head tonight. In the midst of that, there is this blog. Providentially, I’d already asked Jared Ayers, the pastor of Liberti Church in Philadelphia, if I could share of story of his I’d recently read that I found extremely moving. I have a feeling you will like it, too. Here’s Jared’s story, a powerful story about providence. My fate today is up to the weather and Delta Airlines. You’re in better hands with Jared’s story:
The holiest moments in a human life- the ones heavy with meaning- are sometimes the ones in which sweetness and sorrow, grief and joy are woven together in a seamless whole. One of those moments snuck up on my family in our backyard in March of 1999.
In the 1970’s, my parents were lovestruck newlyweds living in a redneck factory town in central Pennsylvania. They could barely make ends meet, so my Dad, at the time the youth director of a church, would spend many of his weekends speaking at retreats and camps for whoever would hire him. At one of these retreats, my Dad and Mom met Lottie. Lottie was brash, loud, and lonely. She had ricocheted between seven or eight foster homes as a child, and was about to run away again.
Mom befriended Lottie, taught her how to wear her greasy tangle of yellow hair, and showed her some warmth when she mostly only knew coldness in life. They kept in touch for a little while, till Lottie ran away again. Dad and Mom next ran across Lottie months later in a parking lot: she was living in the back of a broken-down Buick in the wintertime, and mostly just chain-smoked to keep warm. And she was very pregnant.
My parents took Lottie into their home for the next few months. They gave her a bed to sleep in, and convinced her to put her child up for adoption. Lottie’s little girl entered the world with her mom’s hair, and was taken in excitedly by Bill and Betty Ackley, a couple in the next town over my parents had never heard of, never met, and never heard from again. Then Lottie ran again, and Dad and Mom didn’t hear from her for years.
In March of 1999, I was a sophomore at Lancaster Bible College, where my Dad was teaching. Mom had cancer. She soldiered through months of chemotherapy, but it had stopped working by then. Mom’s body, like our hope, was weak and gaunt. Dad taught as many of his classes as he could stand while he was caring for his dying wife. One day in a 101-level class, students were to tell the story of their lives and faith. Just before the hour ended, a smiling freshman with blonde hair named Aimee stood up, offered to take her turn, and started in: “I really owe my faith to my parents, who adopted me as an infant. I wouldn’t be here without Bill and Betty Ackley.”
Dad’s body jerked like someone startled from sleep. He chased Aimee down after class, made a frantic phone call home to Mom, and started calling around to track down Lottie. Then, in our backyard on a breezy afternoon, my Dad and Mom and brothers and I sat on our back patio with Aimee, and Lottie came over. She met the daughter she never knew. And she stayed a long time.
A month later, Mom died. Lottie sat with our family at the funeral, and Aimee did too; a family member Mom only just got to meet.