A few years back, I read a beautiful and heart-wrenching article in the Boston Globe about a family who had adopted a child from Uganda named Ruth. I reached out to the author, Meadow Rue Merrill, and an online friendship budded in time. Since then, I've had the privilege of reading Meadow's memoir about their daughter Ruth. I'm thankful that Meadow was willing to offer us a reflection on the gifts Ruth brought into their family and community today. (If you are new to this series and would like more information, here's an introduction to these posts.)
When I gave birth to my first child, people couldn't wait to hold him. He was healthy and beautiful and, as he grew, responded in ways others expected. A gummy grin. A squeally laugh.
From the moment he figured it out, he was also on the move. Crawling after a ball. Pulling himself up on furniture to tug a tuft of fur from our cat.
Not so with our fourth child, Ruth, who came into our family through adoption. Born in Uganda and abandoned at birth, Ruth had cerebral palsy. She was also deaf. At eighteen-months old, Ruth couldn't roll over, sit up, or even unclench her fists to grab a rattle.
After bringing Ruth home, we lost our babysitter when she became suddenly unavailable on nights we hoped to go out. Church nursery workers looked at us askance when we carried wobbly, uncoordinated Ruth into class. Family was far away, help hard to come by.
"I wouldn't know how," was the response people often gave when declining to watch Ruth. As in, "I wouldn't know how to feed her." Or, "I wouldn't know how to tell what she wants."
Somehow we muddled through those early months of learning to care for Ruth while also caring for our three other young children, the oldest just turning eight. Life was full and busy and blessed. But on dark winter nights when I'd been cooped up with the kids all day and Dana worked late, I yearned for help.
The following April, I brought Ruth to visit a school for the deaf. After playing in the brightly-lit infant-toddler classroom, we parents and caregivers were invited to join an upstairs support group. As other adults filed out the door, I held Ruth, her thin arms and legs tucked in a sling looped around my neck, wondering what to do.
"You can give her to me." A friendly interpreter held out her hands.
"Leave her?" I didn't understand. Who would help Ruth grasp a toy? Change her diaper? Feed her broken bits of graham crackers at snack time? Hold a bottle to her mouth?
"She'll be fine." The interpreter, whose name was Ann, pointed to Ruth, then placed her open hand, thumb first, to her chest to sign "fine."
Hesitantly, I pulled Ruth from the safe folds of fabric where I carried her close to my heart and handed her to this confident, encouraging stranger. In seven months of feeding, diapering, carrying, bathing, stretching, holding, and loving Ruth, this was the first time someone other than Dana had offered to care for her without me. I was shocked.
Over the years, God brought others like Ann into our lives – people who came alongside us to love Ruth and help us meet her needs. Teachers and therapists. A babysitter extraordinaire who arrived with games and puzzles and homemade cinnamon bread. New friends with kids who also had special needs. A neighbor who marched up the street carrying a box with a week's worth of meals to give us a break.
People like this filled needs we could not and made it possible for us to give Ruth all we could. But something else happened in this transference of time and love and friendship, something I never expected.
Ruth gave back.
This little pip-squeak of a girl who never spoke a word, repaid each act of care and kindness with her priceless smile and limitless laughter, causing those who knew her to laugh and smile too. Over the years, they grew into a community of cheerleaders and caregivers who enriched Ruth's life as much as she enriched all of ours.
God pours gifts and blessings into our lives like a stream. For some that stream appears as long and wide as the Mississippi, for others it seems as small as a trickle. But no matter our resources and limitations, each of us has something to give.
"God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another" (1 Peter 4:10 NLT).
We all receive something. How we use it is up to us. When introduced to people who appear different – whether intellectually, physically, racially, educationally, financially, or any other 'ly' you may add in there – we can either build a dam or continue pouring out that with which we have been blessed.
Every ounce of love and attention that came into Ruth's life she poured back out to others. Sometimes as an ear-piercing shriek. Sometimes with the affectionate swipe of a wet tongue. Ruth kept the water flowing. So did those generous and brave enough to embrace her.
Ann now signs for others in our church. Our amazing babysitter is currently in Uganda sharing her gifts with others at Welcome Home Africa, Ruth's former orphanage. And the neighbor who marched up the street with meals is now a bonus grandmother to our children.
All because they turned toward someone who appeared different and shared their God-given gifts instead of turning away.
Meadow Rue Merrill is a contributing editor to Down East magazine. She writes for children and adults in Midcoast Maine and is the author of an upcoming memoir tentatively titled, "Redeeming Ruth." Follow her story or stay in touch at www.meadowrue.com or "like" her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/meadowrue.merrill