(Shared by Permission: Thank you Becky & Terri-Lee, for allowing me to tell our story.)
Step Aside Menno… I Have Some Celebrating to Do……I have another new-to-me niece!
Last week my blog was supposed to be the continuation of Menno Simons, on excommunication, and exploring what he taught, and why. I try to make Thursday my ‘stay-at-home-with-no-appointments-writing-day’, and I usually manage at least half a day, but last week God had other plans….
I was busy writing all day, but instead of finishing a blog, I was getting to know my niece, who, prior to that morning, had been a dream to discover, a memory to unravel, and a rumor to confirm….
First, however, let me take you back to June, 1993. I believe it was the 17th when my aunt called me at work one afternoon, asking if I’d meet her for coffee. Frankly, we’re not that kind of family. If someone asks to meet for coffee, and then adds ‘there’s something I have to tell you…’, you know something is up. Okay, that last line is a give away in any family, but you get the idea. We don’t usually do random coffee.
I love my aunt who called me that day and, of all my extended relatives, she was the one with whom I had connected most. She’s a sweet and godly woman, who (I like to think) loves and adores me. And, of course, it’s always nice to be loved and adored–especially with my temperament–so I would have gone for coffee with a ‘no reason at all’ invitation. But with the bait that there was something I needed to know, I was anxious to get together, sooner than later.
We met not long after, at Donuts & Deli in Elmira. It was the coffee shop in town, back in the day, before Tim Hortons took over. I will never forget that moment, as she told me about my niece, a 15-yr-old, living in Kitchener Ontario.
At first I was shocked but, just as quickly, the shock gave way to memories, as bits of conversation, overheard somewhere in childhood or pre-teens, and images of past experiences flashed through my mind. My subconscious memory knew it was real.
There was that wedding we attended in Elmira, for Mr. & Mrs. Aaron Wall, and the quiet murmurings of a little girl. The basement filled with people. Two little girls, in pretty little dresses. Snippets of a conversation, of mom telling someone, maybe dad on our way home from the wedding, that one little girl was their granddaughter. Was it one of the little girls in the pretty dresses, or a different little girl? I didn’t know. I wasn’t even sure if I understood what they were talking about, and asking questions about this kind of thing was asking for trouble. I filed the memories.
They stayed filed, without further conscious attention, that I can recall, until that afternoon, with my aunt. I was excited. I was scared. What if she didn’t like me? What if my family didn’t know anything about her? How would my dad react? But then, there memories. Someone had to know something….
There was a phone call, when I was maybe twelve or so. A pastor I didn’t know, from a ‘worldly’ church, calling to tell my parents something. Dad was angry. I don’t remember mom’s reaction. I only heard scraps of information. Trying to fit it together, like a puzzle, I couldn’t make sense of it. The minister, dad insisted, was making up stories about my brother–his son. Something about a little girl. Again. But I didn’t think about the wedding.
I filed the memories into the part of my brain that carries fragmented bits that didn’t fit anywhere else. Then, one day, they would all fall into place…
I met my new-to-me-niece, Becky, not long after, in June of 1993. I called her mom and asked if I could pick her up, and take her out. I don’t remember where we went, but I will never forget the wonder of seeing her. Tall. Beautiful. Blonde. Chocolate-chip eyes. Gorgeous smile, and high cheek bones.
She looked strikingly like her dad, my older brother. It was amazing to think we had lived twenty minutes apart from each other but had never met. We sat at a restaurant or coffee shop of some sort, and talked about everything and nothing.
But the moment that stands out, and still brings tears to my eyes, is that moment when she reach across the table and took my hands. She studied them as though they were fine art, before speaking. “My hands look just like yours! I finally know who I am!”
“I finally know who I am!“… what a powerful statement! I have thought often of that moment, and those words. Identity is a powerful thing! But, for today, I will not teach or preach on that. I will stick to telling a story…
A year after I met Becky, I arranged for her to meet her dad at our home. It was the beginning of a relationship with her birth father, his wife, and their children–her siblings–that would develop gradually, over time.
Becky immediately called me ‘Aunt Trudy’ and soon after our wedding she called my husband ‘Uncle Tim’, taking him off guard. No one had ever called him uncle before, since he had no nieces of nephews before marrying me.
Since that initial meeting, Becky has had a special place in my heart. At times we have seen each other more frequently, and other times less frequently, depending on what was happening in our lives, but she has always been part of our family from the moment I met her. She has become a beautiful young mom to her daughters, and pursued her relationship with God, no matter what hell she encountered, in a way that makes me proud of her. I thank God for connecting us.
Several times over the years we talked and wondered, together…. Was there another sister out there, somewhere…. If so, was she looking for us? Did she know about us? About Becky? About her dad’s family? We talked about her name–Terri-Lynn, we thought it was–and if she was still in Texas. Would we ever find her…
And that brings me to last week, when I was supposed to write about Menno Simons….
It started out like an ordinary Thursday, of sleeping in sort-of late, after a busy few days. Mid-morning I checked my Facebook messages and one jumped off the page. It all happened in seconds from there.
Terri-Lee... Terri-Lee… Why did that name ring a bell? And her features had a familiarity about them… The cheek bones… the eyes… the smile…
Could it be… ?
It took me about ten seconds before I started typing a response, my fingers tapping furiously. Her message had said something about being a stranger… wanting to find my one brother… wondered if I could connect them…
My fingers flew! I did the typical Trudy thing, and responded spontaneously, saying things as they are… that I recognize she is my niece, if I have it right, and I was so excited to hear from her! That I had searched for her, but thought her name was Terri-Lynn. I would be delighted to connect her with my brother.
After I hit send, I realized how overwhelming that could be. What if she was shy? Laid back? And very private. I sent another message apologizing, saying I should have thought it through and not let my excitement get the better of me. If I had overwhelmed her, I was sorry for that.
She responded momentarily with the same enthusiasm, and sense of being overwhelmed–in a good way–that I had expressed. Ah yes! My niece for sure!
We spent the rest of Thursday, sending messages back and forth, getting to know each other, and sharing the excitement of having finally found each other. Most of the work I had hoped to do, was left undone, including my blog. The wonder and shock of having found Terri-Lee, after searching every which way I knew how, was all-consuming.
Again my mind sorted through the fragmented memories, and random conversations of childhood, and the vague awareness that there were two daughters, one in Texas, the other in Ontario–2 nieces I had not known until I met Becky, and now Terri-Lee, but had wanted to find. In fact, it was only months ago that I spent time on Facebook, searching for any ‘Terri-Lynn’, using every spelling imaginable, who might be connected to family or friends. Had I only known that her name was Terri-Lee…
It was altogether too fascinating and wonderful. I saw her family pictures, her gorgeous children and handsome husband. Her mom messaged me, sharing the excitement with her daughter. She, it turned out, had found me on Facebook some time ago, and encouraged Terri-Lee to connect. She thanked me for welcoming Terri-Lee. It was a lot to absorb in one day!
We agreed that I would first contact her birth dad, and then arrange for her to call him. So I left a message for him, and later that evening he called. “I have a surprise for you,” I said. It was the only way I could think of, to start the conversation, though I really wanted to say, “Congratulations, it’s a beautiful young woman.”
My brother received the news with great joy. He had told his wife and children about Terri-Lee, and had hoped one day they would find each other. At the end of our conversation, my brother paused, chuckled, and said something about me always being the one to connect him with his daughters. “Wasn’t it you with Becky too?” he asked.
It was indeed! And it created a special connection with both Becky and Terri-Lee.. something I will always treasure.
I forwarded my brother’s contact information to Terri-Lee, and encouraged her to contact him whenever she felt ready.
I then connected with Becky, who was visiting her dad at the time and had heard the news from him the instant he got off the phone, and encouraged her to touch base with Terri-Lee. The two of them, I imagined, would understand each other in a way that none of the rest of us could. The loss of years without knowing your birth father is a bond the two of them share, as well as the joy and struggle of reintegrating. I knew Becky would be able to be there for Terri-Lee in a special way.
Each family member, as I was able to let them know, was thrilled to have been connected. When I called mom the next morning, she was thrilled, and immediately talked of how she had been praying for Terri-Lee and hoped she would get to meet her someday. She reminisced about the call from the minister, and brought to life the vague, lost memories that had only occasionally surfaced in any form at all.
Terri-Lee’s dad, the gentleman who has fathered her through life, and I connected a few days later. It was a very touching interaction. He shared his heart, his wish to see Terri-Lee connect, and the tugging heart-strings for his little girl, now a beautiful woman in whom he takes great pride. I thanked him for loving her, and caring for her.
It was in some of these exchanges that I realized, to an extent, the magnitude of this reality in Terri-Lee’s life, and her family’s lives.
It is a beautiful gift from God, to have Terri-Lee find us. In one message she said, “I feel like the prodigal daughter… except I never went anywhere.” To which I replied that I think we are the prodigal family.
God makes all things beautiful in his time. I am thankful. My heart is full. Now all we need to do is span the thousands of miles that separate our hearts.
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