Today was Judah’s second birthday and our fifth anniversary. We found out several months into the adoption process that Judah was born on our third anniversary. He obviously doesn’t understand the significance of his birthday, but we certainly do. He was born on December 20, 2005 at Mulago National Hospital near the capital city of Uganda and was immediately abandoned there by his mother and father (who were both present according to records). His mother’s name is on his birth certificate, but it may well have been an alias (common practice in planned abandonments). All we know is that she was 23 years old and had HIV. The fact that Judah didn’t contract HIV from his mother is beyond significant.
We know nothing of his mother’s circumstances and don’t find it difficult to hope the best regarding her motivations for abandoning him. By American sensibilities it’s unthinkable to abandon your child, and I certainly don’t disagree with these sensibilities. But many situations in Africa are unthinkable in and of themselves, and I find myself more understanding of those who may be choosing between two unthinkable options. Of course, many abandonments are tainted or even completely saturated by immorality, selfishness, or personal convenience, but since I don’t know this particular situation, I choose to assume the best. And I don’t have to shout down my conscience to think about it this way. I’ve been to Africa several times, and I have no desire to make surfacy judgments from the gold-plated tower of Western comfort. Further, birth and abandonment at the local hospital is the kindest form, from my limited understanding. In the bush or in a pit latrine are other forms. I’ve spent time with children found in both places. The healing is not immediate.
The hospital staff named him “Charles Musa,” “Charles” because he was delivered by a “Dr. Charles” who both looked like him and loved him and “Musa” for unknown reasons. After a brief stay in the hospital he was put into the legal care of the Amani Baby Cottage several hours east in Jinja, a small peaceful orphanage nestled into the lush greenery along Lake Victoria and a short canoe-ride from the source of the River Nile. This was his home until he immigrated to the United States in July of this year and officially became our son “Judah David Mukisa Gundersen” in November.
Now he is two years old, a happy and hearty young boy with a cloud-clearing smile, a deep twinkle in his eyes, and somewhat of a celebrity following. Today he opened a toy semi-truck, a winter jacket, and a bat and ball from his two sets of grandparents, had lunch with Grandma and Grandpa Gundersen and Uncle Greg, had dinner with Grandma and Grandpa Heck along with Uncle Charles and Auntie Annie, and hosted an open house party where no gifts or toys were allowed but spare change was accepted for his college fund. The final count of $111.75 shows why this is a great idea at his young age — we discourage materialism and avoid multiplying unnecessary toys (since he plays with the coasters anyway), people conveniently get rid of their change while still getting to enjoy gift-giving, and Judah gets something that he enjoys both now (putting it in the piggy-bank one by one) and later (college fund). The fact that Grandpa Heck hates change and throws it in all his drawers doesn’t hurt, and will likely end up providing for some annual treasure-hunting pleasure (to the tune of some $30 this year).
I really, really love this little guy. And though I haven’t shared many of my fatherly reflections here, I will at least say that I understand more why the Father loves the Son so much, and I understand less how He could send Him to suffer in my place. That’s just not something fathers do.
A final note about the other landmark today, whose significance has been overshadowed but whose celebration is only postponed: Someone told me tonight that the first five years of marriage are supposed to be the hardest. If that’s true, I think we missed the memo. There have been plenty of difficulties in the last five years, but our relationship has not been the source of any of them. And that’s not an exaggeration meant to evoke sappy sentiments from friends or to elicit comparisons with other marriages or to earn brownie points with my wife in case she reads this. It’s just not difficult being married to her, at all. It is a privilege and a pleasure, not just from the mountaintop perspective of a five-year anniversary but in the day-to-day interaction we share in the trenches and tangibles of life. I know that many respect her from afar. It is not unwarranted. She is a choice I would gladly make again.
Tonight I go to bed grateful and satisfied with the goodness of the Lord. In some areas we are withstanding waves, but in these two, the seas are smooth. Either way, He is good, in the calm and in the storm.
We have tried to bless God in days of adversity. Now we will try not to forget Him in a day of prosperity.