“Glory be to God for dappled things.” Gerard Manley Hopkins
Desperate mothers can do desperate things.
Can you imagine the terror that Moses’ mother Jochebed must have felt with paranoid Pharaoh’s henchmen going from house to house, hut to hut, tent to tent, looking for baby boys under two years old to kill? Just so the mighty Pharaoh wouldn’t feel threatened and uncomfortable in his stately kingliness. With every brush of wind at the door, every crunch of stones in the yard, every silent breath Jochebed drew, she must have thought This is it. Today they will find my baby and today he will die. Steeled with the mighty arms of mother-love, she crafted a frenzied little ark and waterproofed it with pitch like Father Noah before her, placed her baby in it and set it afloat, alone on the Nile, while she watched terrified from the soggy reeds along the shore.
Stop and try to feel the weight of such a desperate decision.
Sometime later, along the riverbank, Pharoah’s daughter found the basket with the baby inside. I can imagine that she looked deeply into his enormous brown Israelite eyes, felt a yearning, an itch in her own empty mother-arms, picked him up from his reedy crib and soothed his lonely crying, and decided, then and there, to save him. Care for him and raise him as her own.
This story ends well. Moses grew to be the savior of his people, leading them from slavery through deserts and dry riverbeds toward promise ~ a life well lived.
There exist compassionate women who find themselves and others in merciless and dangerous situations, women who see babies in baskets who need saving and then dare to do it.
There are still daughters of Pharaoh.
The hallway of Donna’s high-rise apartment was always stuffy and overly warm. Everything about Recife, Brazil, is stuffy and warm, especially when the rains come. Donna had lived and worked in Brazil for a long while, rescuing children.
She had seen hell on earth, walked in it, smelled it. There are great garbage dumps in this country, tremendous mountains of filth and waste where people live lives among the dirty odds and ends.
Hundreds of children and teenagers work on these heaps with their parents, rushing to new garbage trucks to pick out what could be used or sold. It is competitive work ~ like most things, the fittest and the fastest have the best chance of survival. When anything edible is found, it is eaten. Anything of any value is fought for. Dump-dwellers make shelters from the rains out of cardboard boxes and the hoods of destroyed cars and call these shelters home. Children have a rough go of it in such places.
Hell is no place for children.
In her youth Donna had looked hard at these scenes and then made the brave choice to move. If I don’t go, who will? were the words on her lips. She left the familiarity of stately Virginia and chose the smells and sights of double-sided Recife ~ the beautiful, cosmopolitan, and sophisticated port-side city on the easternmost tip of Brazil that was also the home of hundreds, thousands of children growing up homeless on the streets and in the dumps.
Under car hoods and under-fed.
Eyes wide open, Donna chose compassion, chose folk who had nothing to give in return ~ the forgotten, the scorned, the dust of life. Rough children who knew only how to take, for that is all they had ever seen. Eye for and eye, tooth for a tooth is the law of the street and the trash dump; no wonder there are so many wounded. Blind and toothless.
Can someone help us? Anyone? We are children adrift, our poor mothers had to leave us and so we float with no direction. Donna looked into the frightened and hard faces of these children, these babies, and it changed her. She packed her things, traded Virginia’s loveliness for Recife’s earthiness, and started saving children from dumps and from streets.
Plucking children from hopelessness. Always ripe for the picking.
It seems that Moses is just one in a long line of children in need of plucking from treacherous and deadly waters.
Her child-rescue work grew quickly and became known throughout Recife as Vale do Senhor, Valley of the Savior.
Donna simply calls the place Valley.
The work of saving is exhausting, and it’s not as romantic as one might hope. What to do now with all these kids? Legal papers and courtrooms and school systems and decent food and sleeping quarters. Buildings to build and kitchens to clean. Staff to hire. Funds to raise. Families to reunite. We need more money; these kids need vitamins and milk.
Holy Moses. Saving is hard work.
After a particularly exhausting day of saving, Donna trudged up the dank staircase of her Recife high-rise toward her tiny apartment, bags of groceries in hand, baguette under her arm. Bone-tired, all she really wanted to do at the end of such a day was to sit and read, eat a quick dinner and go to bed.
God never changes and neither do His stories. There are Jochebeds and daughters of Pharaoh today as well, women who have babies they cannot keep and women whose mother-arms long for babies they do not have. When we least expect it, He moves, He surprises.
This is not myth.
Late in the day, in the musty hallway outside of her apartment stood a crowd of neighbors, murmuring, unusual in this normally quiet high-rise. This hallway was almost always empty and overly warm. Donna slowly approached her door and the crowd grew silent, murmuring ceased.
Everyone wide-eyed but close-lipped.
“May I help you? Is there something wrong?” Donna tentatively asked the neighborly onlookers, her stomach knotting with that sudden epiphany that all was about to change.
Will all be well? Her heart shudders.
The waters part and she now sees what her neighbors see and at what they have gathered to quietly gaze. At whom.
On Donna’s doorstep, wrapped in the swaddling clothes of the destitute, was a baby in a basket.
Inside her apartment, alone with the infant and away from the stares and questions of curious neighbors, Donna looked at the infant’s tiny brown hands, examined her impossibly small ears, gazed into her enormous black-brown Brazilian eyes and her heart stirred with beauty, the wonder of it.
The baby took her breath away.
But questions always hover. Donna had fought for and saved many children from the horrors of the lonely Brazilian streets and from mountains and rivers of garbage, but this one was different. Donna had not fought for this one, had not seen her sad eyes in the gutter in front of the cigarette shop begging for mercy, eyes pleading for any form of savior, righteous or not. This baby simply arrived on Donna’s doorstep, wrapped in earthy garments of faith and whispers of hope that a daughter of Pharaoh really would come along and help.
This baby was a gift.
With a note. Birth-Mother had left a hand-written note, scrawled in the hurried hand of a girl in trouble. Words bleared, smeared with sweat and tears. Quick words and phrases, breaths of quiet desperation.
The note was short and direct, written in simple Portuguese ~
Miss Donna, I am giving you my baby girl because I cannot take care of her. Please give her the love you give all the children. Make her happy. Mamae (Mommy)
This baby was one day old.
Donna took the infant from her tiny basket, made a bed of blankets in a roomy drawer, tucking Birth-Mother’s note away for very safe keeping. And while Donna watched the tiny infant sleep in her cozy drawer-crib, she began to bond. She was being offered a gift of grace she had never expected, a child of her own.
She named her infant daughter Rebecca.
The very best in life requires waiting. Always. The adoption Judge was excellent and honest and just, but there are legalities and red tape and waiting. Always.
Surely there were anxious moments when Donna faltered, wondered, questioned. No one is exempt from fear. Or the all-night-crying of babies. Or the disquiet and tedium of a long and complicated adoption process, two years worth. She must have leaned on the words of kind Judge when she first stood before him, new infant in arms. “My role is to see to the ‘best interest of this child,’ he said, “and I think I am looking at that now ~ you clearly truly love this child.’”
Slow but legally sure, it became official. “You are her mother,” the Judge finally said. “She’s all yours.” Perhaps the most kind Judge did not realize what Donna already knew ~ she had become Rebecca’s mother the moment she plucked her from the tiny, earthy basket.
Seventeen years pass peacefully and quietly in the Valley.
Moving day ~ there is always a moving day. The moment comes for nearly-grown Becca to go to college, and mother and daughter are moving to Memphis. Packing, discarding, boxing. Remembering. Years of living in one place packed up in a day or so. Seems impossible, but so it goes.
Mother and daughter are ready to seek a new world. Vale do Senhor is now under the compassionate care of national leadership. Saved children-now-all-grown-up have been educated and trained to be contributing adults. They have learned to sew and cook and wait tables and make lives for themselves. Filhos do Vale ~ the sons and daughters of the Valley ~ now save others from the loneliness of the dumps and streets. The mission will continue ~ the saviors and the saved. With this beauty and confidence, Donna and Becca can say good-bye to this world and hello to the next.
It’s time to go.
Becca fully knows from whence she came. Over the years, time and again, Donna had recounted to Becca her lovely story. Together they had read Birth-Mother’s letter. The child grew up hearing the story told and retold ~ how can we not recount the archetypal story of a baby found in a basket?
Becca’s story is the stuff of lore and holy writ, better than fiction.
The baby in the basket who had grown up in the Valley of the Savior had been loved in the most unique of ways, by many hearts and many hands, white and brown, and she had grown to be gracious and remarkably beautiful.
That’s what Love does.
There were still a few things, though, that Becca did not know.
Through the years, Birth-Mother had been in touch Mama-Donna, asking about the baby. She had naturally wondered what all mothers wonder ~ How was she doing and Was she growing and thriving and … Is she happy? Mama-Donna had patiently reported to Birth-Mother that the baby was growing confident and strong, living and blossoming in wisdom and stature. Baby-Becca had grown to become a musician and a thinker, kind and compassionate, interested in saving like her mother.
Like Jochebed before her, Becca’s own Birth-Mother had been vicariously watching her baby grow up from a distance, hidden in the reeds of the Recife poor.
Major events in this life are often celebrated with a gift. Donna had been planning such a gift for Becca before their departure, and the moment had come to give it. Mama-Donna’s gift was one of great selflessness, like all of her gifts had been ~ a visit to Birth-Mother’s house ~ a long, warm afternoon to meet the woman who birthed her and bravely placed her in a basket, her only hope. Becca had made gifts for her siblings, a happy afternoon, filled with hugs and love. She embraced her Birth-Mother, looked deep into her enormous black-brown Brazillian eyes and said her Hellos.
Then she said her Goodbyes.
On the threshold of her own adulthood, Becca stood quietly on the shore of her saved life and took a long look at both of her worlds, understanding that saving and saviors take on many forms in this life.
Safe travels, little Moses. Boa viagem.
This is not metaphor. This is not just story.
Like Moses before her, Rebecca lived. She lives to sing and study and grow and love. She survived her basket and knows that two mothers loved her, one enough to beg for help in deepest desperation, and one enough to care for her for a lifetime.
Compassion gives life to the near dead and hope to the most desperate. Compassion is Love’s brother and together they do not fail. Courageous and selfless people still open their eyes of love to seek and save those who are lost, those alone and adrift on reedy waters.
Babies in baskets can live. God still sees and He still moves.
There are still daughters of Pharaoh.
Thanks be to God.
For ministry questions or speaking, contact Donna Faircloth at: firstname.lastname@example.org OR donnabrazil.aol.com