God's Brave Women - Cheryl's Story
Even now, as Grace sharply turns the corner from childhood to teenager, I am filled with love for her and gratitude to God that she is our daughter. I can’t believe I hesitated. Almost 12 years ago, my husband, Gerry, and I, were struggling with the decision to adopt. We married late in life, realizing that it was probably too late for us to have children. God showed us the beauty of another path: My husband’s brother and his wife had adopted two children, a boy and a girl, from China. As we doted on our precious nephew and niece, they encouraged us to follow in their footsteps. We hesitated, especially me. Did I have what it takes to be a mom? Would it be the end of my creative and comfortable and relatively low-stress life?
Growing up, my own family was a mixture of love and anxiety. My parents took turns being sick, physically and emotionally. My sweet younger brother, in his teens, began his rocky journey that eventually revealed his struggle with a serious mental illness, a life-long disability. I survived this stressful atmosphere by immersing myself in books and creating art, and my sisters coped in their own ways. From my college days on, I left home, living as far as I could get from Chicago, my home-base, eventually teaching in far-off Pacific islands, first Saipan and then Hawaii. But God always had a hand in my family and brought many blessings and healing to each of us and as a family. Still, these early traumatic memories remained lodged in my heart, a road block of fear. Would I end up reliving and perpetuating my family’s traumas? Did I have the strength to endure the challenges of parenting?
"Would I end up reliving and perpetuating my family’s traumas? Did I have the strength to endure the challenges of parenting?"
I turned to God in prayer and asked Him to show me His will, hoping that would be a guarantee that everything would work out. However, I discovered that discerning God’s will is not an easy task. Sister Katherine, my spiritual director, changed the direction of my search. She suggested I start by discerning what my husband and I really wanted. After all, we had free will. Could I trust that God would be with us no matter what we chose to do? Sister had been guiding me in the practice of centering prayer, a form of Christian meditation. I learned to love sitting in silence, consenting to God’s presence and action, not emptying my mind, but deepening my relationship with the Lord, sitting with my Beloved. “Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46: 10. No answer to my adoption question surfaced but God was preparing my heart.
While attending an eight-day silent Centering Prayer retreat (yes, talkative me could be silent for days), I went for a walk in between prayer sessions in the surrounding beautiful Hawaiian rainforest. Scattered along the path were the Stations of the Cross, each little window framing a scene from Christ’s passion. I was drawn to one in particular: Jesus meets his mother Mary. In the heavy humid air, dense with the sweet smell of ginger, I stood rooted like the trees around me, unable to move, contemplating the image of Mary looking on as her son, Jesus, carried his heavy cross through a crowd of jeering on-lookers. “And sorrow like a sword will break your heart.” (Luke 2:35) There in the rainforest, I cried, and gave thanks not only for Jesus’ sacrifice, but for the sacrifice of His mother, Mary, as she let go of her precious son, entrusting Him to God. I realized that in all families there will be challenges and heart breaks. God spoke directly to my heart - no one, not even his Beloved Son and His family were free from life’s sorrows. God would walk with me and my husband, and if we remembered to turn to Him, we would be OK. I was no longer a helpless child in a struggling family, but an adult with resources and support. The fear was not exactly gone, but it was countered by my trust in God. I had the courage to move forward. From silence my heart was prepared, I was opened to receive a child.
"I realized that in all families there will be challenges and heart breaks. God spoke directly to my heart - no one, not even his Beloved Son and His family were free from life’s sorrows. God would walk with me and my husband, and if we remembered to turn to Him, we would be OK."
Soon after, we initiated the adoption process and waited for a match from the Chinese authorities. Finally, we received the call to meet our social worker. She handed us an envelope with a young child’s photo and medical records. Would we accept this girl, Si Zhen, a 14-month old toddler whose Chinese name meant “Considered Precious”? My husband and I were both stunned with love just from seeing her picture. Instantly we felt connected. “Yes!!!!” we both cried out at the same time. Our three lives were about to be totally transformed. We decided to name her Grace, after a favorite aunt and keep Si Zhen, her Chinese name, as her middle name. Was it God’s will? It certainly felt so very, very right. Now, 12 years later, am I still afraid? The approaching teenage years provide plenty of opportunities for challenges. After all, healthy rebellion is the job of a teen. Just the other day, I stopped myself in the midst of a potential conflict and remembered to invite God in. I felt a whisper in my heart, “Don’t worry, she is Mine.” She is truly “Considered Precious.”
Cheryl Treiber-Kawaoka lives on Oahu, Hawaii, with her husband Gerald, her daughter Grace, and their dog, Kukui. She continues to enjoy making art and shares her love of reading books with Grace. Cheryl is an arts instructor at the University of Hawaii in the College of Education, helping prepare future elementary and secondary teachers. She is an active member of Hawaii chapter of Contemplative Outreach. Centering prayer, Lectio Divina (contemplative scripture reading) and art as prayer are practices that help keep her spiritually nourished and sane.
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