The following excerpt is from The Gospel of Mark, by Lisa Harper, a 7-session, DVD-driven study following Jesus through His early ministry to the cross. Learn more—and preview a free sample—at lifeway.com.
I’ve gotten parenting credit I don’t deserve for the fact that Missy and I have had an uncommonly smooth adoption transition. And while I’d like to think she connected with me so quickly because I’m such a good mama, the truth is our relatively fast and deep mother-daughter bond is Fifi’s fruit. Fifi is Missy’s great aunt. She’s the sickly, gentle, huge-hearted saint who took my little girl in when her lovely biological mama was too sick from a disease called AIDS (which she never knew she had because, like far too many impoverished people barely surviving in Third World countries, Marie had never been diagnosed) to care for her. Too weak to produce milk, much less scrounge for food for her infant. Too cold to snuggle her daughter at night and provide necessary warmth. So Fifi stepped in to rescue Missy and is the main reason my baby girl survived infancy. Fifi is also the one who championed me to be her new mama. In spite of the fact that I was an American stranger who, if approved to adopt her beloved great niece, would take her to a land far, far away called Tennessee filled with four-wheel drive trucks and fried food.
The first time I met Fifi she smiled shyly and then placed this scowling toddler named Missy into my arms and said to her firmly in Creole, “This is your white mama.” Both of us protested; I wanted to give Missy ample time to warm up to me, and Missy was obviously alarmed by my pale ampleness. But Fifi just smiled again shyly and crossed her arms, quietly refusing to take the indignant two-and-a-half year old back into her embrace. It took a few minutes but when my then very wary baby girl realized she didn’t have a choice, she grudgingly relented to let me feed her beans and rice and bounce her on my hip. The next day, at Fifi’s insistence, Missy allowed me to hold her hand and walk around the village for an hour. The second night I was there, Missy condescended to sit on my lap during a stifling hot worship service, after Fifi gave her a very direct you’d-better-mind-me-right-now-young-lady look. With each new baby-step milestone in our budding relationship, Fifi’s smile got wider and she’d nod with approval. When I hugged her fiercely before leaving at the end of that first of many visits, all the while babbling about how grateful I was, she replied simply, “I love you. Praise Jesus,” which was one of the only English phrases she knew.
Over the next two years those five words became our regular conversation. During long, hot bumpy bus rides together from their village to Port au Prince for a doctor’s check-up or an appointment with the U.S. Embassy, Fifi would hold my hand the entire two- to three-hour trip and repeat softly, “I love you. Praise Jesus,” every thirty minutes or so. When I tried to engage her with my pitiable attempts to speak Creole (I still have several intro to Creole books in my library and an “easy” English-Creole app on my phone, but much like Frenchy in Grease, I proved to be a language school drop-out), she’d nod and listen patiently but would inevitably respond with, “I love you. Praise Jesus.”
Finally, on April 14, 2014, when I hugged Fifi with tears streaming down my face, Missy sleeping in my arms, and clutching a manila folder with Haitian and American documents stating that I was now legally Missy’s mama, she squeezed both of my hands, looked deep into my eyes and said again, “I love you. Praise Jesus.” By then I knew what she really meant by those five words was, “I’m entrusting you to take good care of her. It’s breaking my heart to know I’ll probably only see her again a few times before I die, but I know this is what’s best for her. Remember that she likes her mangoes on the firm side and she loves to be sung to sleep. Don’t let her be lazy in school, or be disrespectful, or eat with her mouth open, or bite her fingernails, or forget how very much I loved her. OK, I’m going to kiss her head one last time and try to memorize her face and her precious little girl smell and the shape of her toes before I turn my head. And please know the reason I won’t watch y’all drive away toward the airport isn’t because I’m ambivalent—it’s so I won’t chase the van and beg you not to leave quite yet.”
Fifi willingly gave up her claim on my daughter’s heart so that my daughter could live. Hers is one of the most sacrificial affections I’ve ever had the privilege of witnessing. How much more so is our Heavenly Father’s affection for us? He willingly watched His only begotten Son depart from glory knowing that He would be pierced for our transgressions. With the full knowledge that Jesus would soon scream in agony, “Dad, Dad, why have You forsaken Me?”, God also knew He wasn’t going to be able to lift a finger to help His incarnate child when He cried out from that cursed tree. Because in order for His image-bearers to live, His boy had to die.
I know it’s incredibly anthropomorphic to ascribe human emotion to God the Father, but the mama in me hopes that when He heard the curtain rip He grinned:
And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. —Mark 15:37-38, ESV
Don’t forget that that massive curtain—which ancient rabbinic sources say was several thousand pounds and took 300 people to move—was torn in two, thereby removing the separation and allowing us access to God’s mercy. I also love that Mark clarifies that the curtain was ripped “from top to bottom” (v. 38), implying that God Himself ripped that fancy fabric!
Plus, it was “torn in two, from top to bottom” at the ninth hour, which meant this massive 60 foot long and 30 foot wide curtain ripped in half causing an enormous crash at three o’clock in the afternoon, right about the time the temple priests were standing directly in front of it dutifully going through the motions of religion. To say those poor guys were a little startled is like saying a bear is a little hungry when it wakes up from hibernation!
Excerpted from The Gospel of Mark, Lisa Harper © 2015 Lifeway Press. Used by permission.