Debut novelist Katie Ganshert recently sponsored a challenge for bloggers to write about how God turned a painful experience into something beautiful. For essays by other writers on the same theme, click on her name today and Friday. As for me, I have experienced great beauty in my life, but perhaps nothing quite as inspiring as the relationship between my daughters. So, in honor of Katie’s upcoming book, “Wildflowers from Winter,” which I’ll be reviewing and giving away later this week, here’s my story:
“Sing me the goodnight song,” my nine-year-old daughter, Lydia, requested, sitting up in bed in her newly re-arranged room. She and her dad had spent the afternoon cleaning and shuffling around her bed, dresser, and bookshelf.
“Which one?” I asked.
“The one you used to sing to me and Ruthie,” she said.
I smiled sadly, remembering the many nights I’d climbed into bed between Lydia and her same-age sister, Ruth, whom we’d adopted from Uganda. They were only two weeks apart and as close as two sisters could be despite the fact that Ruth couldn’t speak or walk and relied on us for her daily care due to severe cerebral palsy—a brain injury she’d suffered at or before birth.
Ruth was also deaf, something we’d discovered shortly after her second birthday. Sixteen-months and barely thirteen pounds, Ruth had arrived in Maine in 2004 for six months of physical therapy. We’d met her through friends who were hosting her. Then we were told she’d return to her orphanage—unless someone wanted to adopt her.
The decision wasn’t easy. I valued my independence and wasn’t sure I could spend a life willingly taking care of someone else.
Plus, Dana and I already had three kids—two sons, who were then seven and four, and Lydia. Adopting Ruth seemed like the craziest thing we could do, and yet the more we prayed about it, the more we felt sure Ruth belonged with us. And so we raised $15,000, and I took her back to Uganda to get the necessary paperwork before we completed her adoption in 2006.
The following years were challenging, but we loved Ruth more than we could have imagined. And we were astonished at her joy. I often thought God had packed her extra full of it to make up for all the things He’d taken away. Not only was Ruth happy and easy to love, but she was smart—quickly learning to hear at age four with the help of a cochlear implant and eagerly learning to read. So, it was a bitter shock, one night in February 2011, when God took Ruth away.
For six years, our precious, funny, and beautiful daughter had been the center of our lives, and without warning she died in her sleep from unknown complications from cerebral palsy. For more than half a year afterward, Lydia continued sleeping in the big bed she and her sister had once shared. I was so overwhelmed by grief that by the time she was ready to move back into her old, I didn’t even realize I’d stopped singing to her.
So, there I was, standing in Lydia’s newly re-claimed room, when my daughter requested the song.
“Do you want me to sing to Ruthie too?” I asked.
In the silence, I raised my hands and began just as I had almost every night when Lydia and Ruth once slept together, “Good night, Lydia. Good night Lydia. Good night Lydia, it’s time to go to sleep.”
I touched the tips of my fingers to my chin and turned my hand over like the setting sun before lowering it to my other hand, which represented the horizon. First I sang to Lydia. Then I repeated the words for Ruth. Lydia joined with me, her own sweet voice carrying the melody as her hands mimicked mine. We did it fast. We did it slow. We laughed, remembering how the change in speed had always made Ruth squeal with happiness.
And afterward, as I prayed with my daughter and kissed her goodnight, I thanked God for the six years we’d shared with Ruth—for the beauty of laughter, for the joy of talking with our hands, for the love between sisters.