Experiences can’t be transferred.
I know that.
Passion can’t be forced out of one heart and into another.
I know that, too.
In fact, I get a little bristly when people try to do either.
But sometimes we have an experience that lingers within us long after the actual space in time. It chews on the corners of our minds. It hovers over our days. It nags at the center of our souls until it beats in rhythm with our very own heart. And in spite of the fact that deep down we don’t believe, I mean really believe, that we could ever make a difference, we know just as deep that remaining stagnant isn’t an option.
So we take a deep breath and we jump.
A little over a year ago, I had just finished teaching a class when a woman—an acquaintance—caught up with me. A single mom, she was adopting a little boy from Ethiopia. “Don’t think I’m crazy,” she said. “I know we don’t know each other very well, but I was wondering if you’d go with me to pick up my son.”
My heart skipped more than a few beats. Mostly because it didn’t sound so crazy to me.
Less than two months later we were standing in customs at the Addis Ababa airport—weary, dirty, anxious. After 24 hours of traveling, the outrageousness of what brought us there seemed nothing less than comical. I threw her a look and we both shook our heads.
“I can’t believe you asked me to come to Africa with you,” I said.
Ruthanne laughed. “I can’t believe you came.”
With that we were off into a dark rain-soaked night, no streetlights to guide our taxi ride “home”, only momentary flashes to illuminate our new surroundings: boarded storefronts, the jagged, haphazard outline of stunted buildings, corrugated tin roofs, and dozens upon dozens of people — wet, unprotected, sleeping — on the sides of the street.
I couldn’t help but wonder, again, why Ruthanne chose me. I say chose deliberately because it was, in fact, a choice. She could have asked anyone to go with her, certainly someone with whom she had a trustworthy history, someone whose bad habits she knew and loved despite, someone who had seen her cry or freak out or wake up in the morning without makeup. After all, this wasn’t a vacation. We were going to meet her son.
But in the countless times I’d asked her why since that first this-is-going-to-sound-crazy encounter, her response has always been the same: God wanted you to go. An act of obedience by a woman in one of the most vulnerable, intimate spaces life could hold. An act that ultimately wasn’t about either one of us.
Now the logical assumption might be that if God really wanted me to go on a trip whose foundation was adoption, then perhaps I’d leave the experience with an uncontrollable urge to bring home an armful of kids. But, as things of God often go, there were factors in play that neither Ruthanne nor I ever could have foreseen.
Like two women I’d meet the next day, one who was adopting a son of her own. Like the speech she’d heard months earlier that inspired her to put an Ethiopian teenager through school so that teenager wouldn’t end up sleeping on her own side of a rain-soaked street. Like the trip we’d take to the school where I felt the heaviness of God pressing down on my soul.
The heaviness that lingers and hovers and chews and nags and beats, the same heaviness that won’t allow me to remain stagnant, the one that pleads with me to believe that making a difference is possible, even when I don’t really believe.
This post is Part One of a two (or maybe three!) part series. I have yet to get to the best part so please stop back. You can read the introduction here. As always, you can subscribe to or follow this blog to be automatically informed of new posts.