This woman has changed my life. I am deeply stirred by her story...her life...her choices and sacrifices. God has used her to open my eyes and heart to injustice and grace. I'd like to take a moment out of your day to share with you what all is behind this young woman...behind her smile.
It is my honor to introduce Adrienne to you. Adrienne is the daughter of Benita and Anold. She is a sister to four other girls and one boy. She is a Haitian. She loves all kinds of music. She loves the color yellow. She loves the Hibiscus flower. She is currently 18 years old. She is the birth-mother of two little girls, one being Nora. She is my relation because she is another one of God's many creations...one of His "pride and joys". She is absolutely beautiful...stunning actually. Her smile could light up any room she was in. When I look at this picture our orphanage director sent me a few days ago, I smile. Adrienne's smile makes me smile. But, oh, if you only knew the heartache behind that smile. The blessed soul of one begging for redemption and more of the life God desires each of us to live...all hidden beneath a smile.
When Adrienne was 12 years old she was forced out of her mother's home and sent away from her brother and sisters to her aunt's house (her father was out of the picture by this point). I do not know why Benita had to have Adrienne leave her side. I do not know all the details of her story...I do not need to...I have heard countless others of young Haitian girls being given up because their mothers have felt they have had no choice but to do this. 12 years old, friends. Twelve. Do you need a visual? This is me at 12...
At twelve I was relaxed in my own home with no fears, threats, or demands to leave. I was making friendship bracelets. Friendship bracelets. Leaving my mom and going to live with my aunt would have been unthinkable.
If you think Adrienne's story is unthinkable already, there is much more darkness in the reality of her young world. If it were my story I would tell it because I am an open book when it comes to my past and I would tell anyone anything if it meant someone else would benefit from the truth being said out loud and healing found for another person out there. So many times in this world we live thinking we are the only one who has suffered in some sort of way and live a life of secrecy and shame. Living in secrecy and shame is not the life of freedom and joy God intended. God came to set the captives free not to see them covered over with people's opinions that some things are just too shocking to have others know. Adrienne's story is one where there is so much wrong done to her--a story so similar to the many young girls in Haiti no one is speaking up for. Adrienne's story is full of moments at the tender age of 12 that no one should ever have to endure. And yet because she lives in a third-world country where her voice just becomes one of the many, and no one is fighting for her, she has been left in the silence.
Fast forward two years and you would find Adrienne still living with her aunt, but now pregnant. She got dismissed from school and her aunt made her leave. Can you even fathom? Leaving her first home to come to this one and then being kicked out of this one too? Such loss. Her aunt sent her to an old man's house telling her to stay for a week and then come back. Again, I do not know why...I do not need the full story. Instead of staying with this old man for the one week her aunt told her to, for some reason, Adrienne stayed in his home for two years. Adrienne decided to bring her first baby to the orphanage at six months old...a hope and prayer this young child would have a better life than what she felt she could provide for her herself. A selfless choice of love.
Fast forward another year and you would find Adrienne pregnant again and still living with "the old man". This old man's name is Joseph. He is Nora's birth-father. Adrienne gave birth to Nora at age 17. Seventeen. Do you need another visual? Here I am at 17...
At age 17 I was a typical older teen--always on the phone, a bit boy-crazy, and consumed with the involvement of my high school years. I can not even imagine taking that phone out of my hand and placing my second-born daughter in my arms instead.
Adrienne was shopping for vegetables in the market at noon on September 30, 2011 when she felt a pain in her stomach. At 4 p.m. she birthed her second child. Another beautiful little girl she named "Josephine". Josephine means "Jehovah increases"--little did Adrienne know the name she chose for her daughter would be a significant part of our own story line--it has certainly been Jehovah who has increased our family with this sweet little girl. Josephine (or Nora Josephine as we will call her) was kept at Adrienne's side for one month before being brought to the same orphanage as her half-sister. At age 17, Adrienne had already given over two of her own precious girls to an orphanage...to safety...to protection...to a future childhood that would be much, much brighter than her own. Can you start to see the amazing strength and love this young woman has?
Currently, you would find Adrienne 18 years old and back in her mother's household. She left Joseph sometime in the past year and moved back in with her mom. I do not know what made her make the decision to leave. I do not know why her mother is accepting her back now. All I know is there is a young woman who's story should not bring about a smile on her face and yet it is still there. Beauty from ashes. As our director has told us, Adrienne is very innocent and naive and has led a sad life so far.
So far. And isn't that the key? So far. In Adrienne's 18 years of life she has had to survive and endure through more cruelty and loss than I can imagine. But all of that is Adrienne's past. It is her "so far". But what of her future? What is her "yet to come"?
When I asked our director to have Adrienne answer some questions so Nora would know more about her someday, one of the questions I asked was "What are your hopes and dreams?" Her answer...to go back to school someday. Seriously. Let that sit with you a minute. She could have said she wanted a house to call her own. She could have said to have a baby she didn't feel the need to give up for adoption. She could have said to find a husband who would love her. She could have said she wanted enough food for three meals a day. She could have said so many different things, but all she said was "to go back to school someday". Friends, education truly is the key to any bit of quality to life in Haiti. Education is what brings hope, freedom, and the chance for success...and Adrienne knows it. The chance for a job that would bring in any kind of income would be priceless for her. She isn't asking for a free handout--she is asking for the opportunity to learn to do something valuable with her life. Education, however for the most part, is not free in Haiti and therefore is simply a hope and dream to Adrienne and so many other children who do not have enough money to afford it.
So, it is our hearts' desire to see Adrienne's hopes and dreams become a reality. It is our hearts' desire to have her "so far" in life become a night and day difference from her "yet to come". We are currently trying to gather more information on the costs of schooling and what all will have to happen for this hope and dream of hers to become a shining reality. Our family will not be able to do anything for her until this adoption is final so that the government does not think she gave us her child in exchange for education. That is the farthest thing from truth. Our desire to see her hopes and dreams reached has nothing to do with Nora...it has everything to do with the fact we also want to extend love in a tangible way to Adrienne. We believe as Adrienne has her hopes and dreams of an education fulfilled, she could blossom with new hopes and dreams that could literally change the face and future of Haiti. It's the same desire I have for all of the children of Haiti as they would receive educational help.
As heart-wrenching as it is to hear this account of Adrienne's life, it is even more heart-wrenching to think of her life continuing on in this pattern instead of being redeemed by the hand of God through His people. A hard, sad life is not what is behind Adrienne's smile. HOPE is behind that smile, friends, HOPE for a brighter future. Hope that others will get involved and help. It is my hope and prayer her smile will remind each of us to get involved in any way we can to help another individual in need. It is also my hope and prayer her smile would remind each of us it is not so much about what our past has been but so much more about the future before us. Our own hopes and dreams are still in front of us and still obtainable no matter what our current situation looks like.
Adrienne, my sister, my friend, you have been such a gift to me. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your trust and grace in my love for Nora. I thank you for enduring through the tragedies of your life and still holding onto a thread of hope for something greater. I thank you for sharing your story and heart with me. I pray God would begin such a great work in your life that you will almost think you are in heaven already. I pray for the beautiful smile on your face to truly be present each and every day of your life from here on out. And lastly, I pray, your story...your life...your smile will touch more people than you ever thought possible and that God would use them to draw so many others closer to Him. I know you desired Nora to remember you as her mom, but I believe God can use you for so much more than that and I am excited to see what all that will be.
** If you are interested in helping other children, like Adrienne, attend school in Haiti, I encourage you to go to Mountain Top Ministries website to find out more about sponsoring a student--www.mtmhaiti.com. If God is calling you to get involved in helping others in a different way, I encourage you to follow His leading in whatever direction that is. **