Three years ago today, my wife and I took a long drive from Lima, Peru to the outskirts of a few desert towns on the western coast of the country. Once we arrived in the obscure town we were destined for, we took a short ride to the backside– past normal civilization, passing gullies filled with burning garbage, and arrived at a small compound with towering walls and barbed wire.
Interestingly enough, I remember thinking about something Jesus talked about during my drive there. When Jesus talked about hell, he used a word that referred to a place outside the city where all the garbage was thrown and burned– it was an actual, real place called Gehenna (γέεννα) which was located outside ancient Jerusalem.
As I looked out the window and watched the smoke rise up from burning garbage, wild dogs scrounging for a meal, human beings living among this wreckage, I remember thinking to myself, “ahh, this is what Jesus was describing when he talked about hell“.
Hell was a place in the middle of nowhere, a place where children were literally locked up behind steel doors, where adults were few and where the love of a mom and dad was only a dream.
Hell, for me, became traveling to a Peruvian orphanage.
Yet, it was embracing what can happen when one is willing to let go of the comforts of heaven in order to visit souls in hell, that taught me the meaning of life.
Growing up, I used to believe that God had a plan for my life. But somewhere along my own dusty road, I had stopped believing that… until she jumped into my arms.
Three years ago today, my Johanna jumped into my arms, and I immediately realized that she was God’s purpose– she was God’s plan for me. She’s taught me everything I need to know about life, and most importantly, she’s taught me everything I need to know about God.
Other parents may experience their child’s first words years down the road, and it’s usually something like “daadaaa”. For me, I experienced my child’s first words within moments of meeting her. They were:
“Are you strong? Can I feel your muscles? Will you protect me? Is it okay if we leave the orphanage right now? I don’t want to spend another night here. I’ve been waiting a long time for you.”
I’ve loved her since the moment I laid eyes on her, and I’m pretty sure she feels the same way about me. The past three years have been a long journey– some of them quite painful, but today our family is celebrating our annual “gotcha day”, which is the most important “holiday” of the Corey home.
Today I also celebrate the fact that God is still in the business of restoration.
In three years, she’s gone from waiting for a family in a compound behind hell– destined for a life of poverty, illiteracy, and exploitation– to having a family, an education, a future… and being a sold out Jesus follower who has a passion for the broken, the forgotten, and the outcast. In fact, this past year she told me that she wanted “to be a friend of Jesus her whole life”, and asked me if I would baptize her– which was one of the proudest moments of my life.
Johanna has taught me all I need to know about so many things in life.
You see, when we think about things like hell, heaven, purpose and meaning, I think we often look too far away. None of those concepts are distant things– but present realities in our own life. Hell can be a present reality in the here and now.
But so can purpose and meaning.
So can restoration and new life.
It can all be present, right now.
My friends- please don’t look off into the distance for these things. I believe that if you look at what is right in front of you, you’ll find elements of hell that you can mitigate. I believe you’ll find meaning for life, and God’s purpose for you…
I even think you can find small ways to bring heaven into the here-and-now.
My purpose and meaning? Her name is Johanna Grace (God is Gracious), and serving her is why God put Benjamin L. Corey on this planet.
And today, is her “gotcha day”.
For me (with two teenagers), I had a similar experience watching my mind turn my desire to serve my children and learn from them to be my top priority. It has been a fantastic journey.
I think your experience is universal. It is the same for atheists, Hindus, Muslims — for everyone. Our difference is I’d say it is biological — albeit, wonderfully biological. You call it “God” and add all sorts of other layers on the feeling. I get that (because I was a former Christian), but I no longer have a felt need to add that extra layer to everything in life. I now share deep feelings with the rest of humanity.
God bless you all heartwarming story
Cool story that touches my heart thanks for sharing.
I appreciate the spirit behind this post, but I am a little sad because of what you left out, by necessity or otherwise.
OK, actually, very sad.
(and I want to make clear that I’m not being passive-aggressive. there were real tears.)
Today is a day to celebrate what we have, not what we’ve lost.
Amen brother, today is a time for laughter and dancing. God’s love for us is best understood through our love for others.
For what it’s worth, there were many tears shed today in our family, as “gotcha day” is bitter sweet. Our daily lives are filled with sorrow, so writing something positive about what remains of our lives was an act at protecting my own sanity. Surviving a disrupted adoption is probably the most painful course I’ve ever tried to navigate.
I wasn’t meaning to sound critical. It’s just.. the story you told before… I couldn’t stand the thought of someone being forgotten. Y’know? Even if it’s how things work out sometimes, and it sounds like what did work out worked out really well.
Thanks for clarifying… wasn’t sure how to interpret the first comment. I agree– the idea of being forgotten is horrible, and trust me, she’s not. It is a part of our daily lives. Had to pull the car over on the way home from our celebratory dinner this evening, because I had three women in the car crying.
We’ve never forgotten… and never will. There are some days the pain is so strong that we wish we could forget, but it is always lingering beneath the surface. We’ve fought, we’ve opened our lives, but in the end, love must be chosen. So far, in this case, love still isn’t chosen. So today, I wasn’t intending to forget, but needed to write something about what is good about today, something about the family I still have, instead of about what is painful about today. I just couldn’t go there… to raw, too painful, and needed to force myself to focus on something beautiful.
I am a little over emotional sometimes, and if you couple that with a tendency to say what’s on my mind, I’m easily misinterpreted. That’s one reason I did clarify. You share a lot like I do.
Did you plan for ‘gotcha day’ to fall in line with International Women’s Day, or is that just a happy coincidence?