Here’s this week’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith and media.
Fresh off of having won a Christopher Award for excellence in books aimed at adults for Redeeming Ruth: Everything Life Takes, Love Restores (Hendrickson Publishers), author Meadow Rue Merrill answered 13 questions for me about the heart-wrenching yet inspirational story of her family’s adoption of a Ugandan child living with cerebral palsy as well as a hearing disability.
1. HOW DID YOU COME TO ADOPT RUTH?
My husband, Dana, and I met Ruth, when she was 18 months old. A grassroots medical organization had brought her to Maine from her orphanage in Uganda for medical treatment for severe cerebral palsy. Ruth was staying with friends, who had signed up as her host family.
2. HOW MANY CHILDREN DID YOU HAVE PRIOR TO ADOPTING RUTH?
When we met Ruth, we had three children—two boys, ages 7 and 4, and a daughter who was a few weeks older than Ruth.
3. WHAT DREW YOU TO ADOPT A CHILD WITH SUCH SEVERE DISABILITIES?
For all the times Dana and I had talked about adopting, we had never discussed adopting a child with special needs. Yet, we had prayed asking that if God had a child for us to adopt, he would bring us that child. Then we met Ruth. At 18 months, she had the physical abilities of a two month old, but she had an amazing smile that drew us in.
4. DID YOU HAVE ANY DOUBTS?
Absolutely. I wasn’t sure I wanted to give up my freedom to care for a child who might never care for herself. Dana, however, had a firm belief that whatever we faced, God would provide for us and for Ruth.
5. HOW DID YOUR OWN CHILDREN RESPOND TO RUTH?
They adored her. When we told our boys that we were considering adopting Ruth, they wanted to know when she would be their sister. They loved making her laugh, competing to see who could make her laugh the loudest. Our daughter, Lydia, brought Ruth toys and tried to help her hold them.
6. HOW LONG AND EXPENSIVE WAS THE ADOPTION PROCESS?
Soon after meeting Ruth, we became her new host family. But to complete her adoption, we hired two lawyers—one in Maine, one in Uganda—and consulted immigration attorneys. The cost, including taking Ruth back to Uganda to go to court, was about $15,000. The adoption itself took about 18 months.
7. BESIDES THE EXPENSE, WHAT OTHER OBSTACLES DID YOU ENCOUNTER WHILE ADOPTING RUTH?
While she was first staying with us, we discovered that Ruth was also deaf. So we began learning sign language. We also discovered that the only way to complete Ruth’s adoption was for me to take her back to Uganda on my own. At the airport in Boston, Ruth wasn’t allowed on the plane. She needed a special transit visa to fly through England. To get the visa, we ended up stuck in New York City and nearly missed our court date in Kampala.
8. HOW DID YOU COMMUNICATE WITH RUTH?
Ruth was very alert, following everything we did with her eyes. But she couldn’t talk. We signed to her, and asked questions, that she would answer by looking at what she wanted. Later, she received a cochlear implant, which allowed her to hear. We also used a letter board, printed with the alphabet, and Ruth learned to spell, picking out letters one at a time by poking out her tongue when we pointed to the right letter.
9. HOW LONG WAS RUTH WITH YOU?
A little more than six years. We were thrilled with Ruth’s progress. She had far surpassed the expectations of a neurologist, who believed that she was severely cognitively impaired. After her implant, Ruth was hearing and learning so well that she transferred from a school for the deaf to our local public school for first grade. But that winter, she came down with a mild cold. She seemed to recover. Then, without warning, she died in her sleep.
10. YOU ACTUALLY HAD A BABY BOY AFTER ADOPTING RUTH. HOW DID RUTH INTERACT WITH HIM?
Ruth loved being a big sister! She thought our baby, Asher, was so funny—especially when he crawled away from us or tried to eat his socks. And she loved to hold him on the tray of her wheelchair. Since she couldn’t open her hands to touch him, Ruth would lick his fuzzy blond head.
11. HOW WAS YOUR FAITH AFFECTED WHEN RUTH DIED?
We were devastated. I didn’t know whether we had failed God or he had failed us. All I knew was that I was Ruth’s mother. It was my job to protect her. And I’d failed. I wasn’t sure I could trust God. I was no longer even sure he existed.
12. HOW DID YOU GET BEYOND YOUR GRIEF?
Slowly. I spent a lot of time at home, alone with my journal. I also spent a lot of time reading the Bible, searching for some explanation for how God had allowed this to happen. I read the most melancholy books I could find—Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and some of the Psalms. In them I discovered a God who is with us, not just when life is going the way we hope, but in the deepest darkest places of our disappointment and loss.
13. HAVE YOU ALWAYS HAD A STRONG FAITH?
I was blessed to grow up with a mom who believed that God had a purpose for my life, and that if I asked, he would show me what it was. I’ve always wanted to know this purpose. What I didn’t know was that as we open ourselves to God’s purpose, we will also open ourselves to pain. God loves people who are lost, hurting and broken, and he wants to love these people through us. That’s the message of my book. But if we love them, unconditionally, the way that God loves us, then we will also experience their pain. There is no way around it.