A Modern Sarah
Fulfillment of old desires can come in the least likely way.
by Janan Terpstra
She arrived at our front door holding only a few trash bags filled with her clothes and toiletries. She was 19 at the time — beautiful, with large brown eyes and gorgeous olive skin. She was also eight months pregnant and homeless.
I wanted to throw my arms around her and promise that no one would ever hurt her again, but I knew enough to take it slowly.
Feeling the tug
I am not a saint. Like many, I struggle to spend quality time with the Lord. I put off reading my Bible. I hesitate to share my faith.
But when a couple related the details of their pro-life ministry (called Life Movement) at our church and told us about the current teen they were trying to help, my husband, Bob, and I both felt the tug of the Holy Spirit that said, “Your turn.”
I had no idea that saying yes to God would bring both challenge and, ultimately, blessing.
We had long believed in the sanctity of life, illustrated by 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.
We also thought about the scripture where Jesus said, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me’” (emphasis mine).
Amanda (not her real name) moved in over Thanksgiving weekend. We live in a small home with not much wiggle room. Luckily, we do have two bedrooms and two baths, so she had some privacy. But having a third person around all the time was a huge adjustment.
Nevertheless, the first month was like a holiday for all of us. We loved spoiling Amanda with shopping trips, gifts, and new clothes for her and the baby, due in January.
Bonding and warning signs
On January 5, Natalie (not her real name) was born, and our lives changed forever. Amanda tried to be a good mom, and my husband and I quickly bonded with this adorable child who stole our hearts with just a single look.
For a few months we all lived in relative peace as Amanda slept a lot and played with her infant. After a while, however, it became apparent that she was content to cruise through life and let others support her.
This story is not about the bad girl who comes to Christ and lives happily ever after. This is real life, where you try to be obedient and let God take it from there.
We ended up being manipulated and unappreciated. One of the most hurtful episodes occurred when Amanda lied and said I had not given her a baby shower. She then sold the Target and Walmart gift cards that my friends from around the country had sent her for baby supplies. She used the money she got to buy cigarettes.
Had Amanda been the only one involved, this tale would have had a quick ending. But Natalie changed everything.
When I was in my late thirties and still not married, I heard the loud ticking of my biological clock. Sitting in church one day, I heard my Lord whisper, “Can you be like Abraham and sacrifice your very desire for a child?”
I thought I was being overly dramatic. But five minutes later, the pastor’s sermon centered around — you guessed it — Isaac on the altar.
Answer to prayer
Fast-forward a few years until I finally got married at age 46. Bob had three adult children, so I inherited one grandchild. During our life together, we gained eight more.
I knew the Lord had honored my decades of prayer for a family. But I hadn’t realized that deep inside I still felt cheated because I had missed out on those mommy years.
Now, as I approached 60, I had a baby in my house and enjoyed diapering and burping and rocking and staying up many nights when Amanda was off with friends.
Despite Amanda’s behavior, I felt like Sarah, who had given birth at an old age. I wished I could go back in time to my thirty-something self and tell myself, “Shh, don’t cry. God has a plan you won’t believe.”
I never imagined that such a plan would come with pain. The Life Movement was designed to help young women who choose not to abort and offer them practical help so they can get on their feet and be responsible citizens. Our houseguest was completely uninterested in doing anything for herself. She flat out stated she would not get a job because the government was paying her.
I also heard through the grapevine that Amanda believed we wouldn’t kick her out because of the baby.
Eventually, Bob and I had to make the hardest decision in our life together. We knew that, without consequences, Amanda would never have the chance to grow up.
We set a deadline for May 1 and stuck to it. Mother and four-month-old daughter moved out. I cried myself to sleep for many nights worrying about Natalie’s well-being.
That season lasted two months. Amanda ended up abandoning her child in early July. Natalie was covered in feces, and her car seat was saturated with urine. She could barely crawl.
Amanda left her infant with the couple who had adopted her as a teenager. They had always tried to help her, but Amanda treated them much the same way as she treated us.
This incredible couple became Natalie’s legal guardians. They love this child unconditionally and are raising her as their own, but they still need help with childcare. So once again my house is filled with the joyous laughter of a little girl.
Natalie is now four going on 20. She is incredibly smart, gorgeous, funny, and bold. Her guardians have raised her to be well-mannered and thoughtful. We still get frequent visits for a few days, or even a week at a time. Natalie has brightened our lives immeasurably.
We have not stopped praying for Amanda (who has had three other children since) to acknowledge the Lord’s passionate love for her. We believe that the seeds we planted will bloom one day. I cling to Matthew 18:12, 13:
“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off.”
In the meantime, her little one is boldly telling grownups to pray at the dinner table.
Blessings of obedience
Through it all, we have faith and understand that God’s ways are often not our ways. I would have written this chapter of my life differently. I would have included a fairy-tale ending. But life is not always like that.
Yet there’s one thing I am sure of: Obeying that still, small voice was the best decision I ever made. Natalie once asked me, “Are you a mommy?”
I said, “No, I never had any children.”
She said, in sort of a “duh” tone of voice, “I am a children, so you are a mommy.”
Thank You, Jesus, for using this child to tell me Your heart.
Reprinted and adapted with permission from Celebrate Life Magazine. Scripture quotations are taken from the New International Version.