“You don’t really know the impact of a life-changing experience until you can measure who you were before against who you are now.” (p. 187, Children of My Heart, by Ashley Lackovich-van Gorp)
In this rawly honest book, the author invites the reader to join in on her journey from living as a going-through-the-motions Orthodox Christian (in a crisis of faith) to a prayerful mother of two who is deeply aware of the presence of God and His saints both in her life and in the lives of her children. The reader feels Mrs. Lackovich-van Gorp’s emotions, laughs along at the humor she finds along the way, and is challenged to become more like Christ. The book is easy to read, yet is also rich in both interesting anecdotes and theological concepts. The reader is left with much to ponder.
Ashley Lackovich-van Gorp grew up as a member of the Serbian Orthodox Church in America, and realized after she was married and living/working in Israel that she was not embracing the Faith for herself. Dissatisfied, she set out to change it, to find a way to not just be “going through the motions” of the Faith, but to be living it from her heart. She began to faithfully pray the Jesus Prayer, regularly visit the tomb of Christ, and earnestly pray to Saint Xenia, but nothing seemed to make a difference in her heart. Doggedly, she pressed on toward her goal.
One day, she made her way to Bethany to visit a school for girls that is run by Orthodox nuns from St. Mary Magdalene Monastery. Mrs. Lackovich-van Gorp was struck by the nuns’ commitment to the Palestinian girls in their care. “I couldn’t resist admitting to Sister Martha, that , in my experience, Orthodox nuns prayed and did not raise children. Nodding her head toward the three little girls gathered at the window to catch a glimpse of these odd American visitors, Sister Martha smiled and whispered, ‘This is how I pray.’ …for the first time since arriving in Jerusalem, I felt a little leap inside… My soul was stirring.” (pp. 22-23)
Over the course of time, as Mrs. Lackovich-van Gorp spent more and more hours with the nuns and their girls, helping in any what that she could, she began to see God at work in all of their lives. “I understood that I was not part of monastic day care, but part of a real family. These are children who come from the streets, from homes that are not safe, from the darkest corners of Palestine… These girls have no one but Sister Martha, Abbess Elizabeth, and the nuns. To take in children who have no family means becoming their family; there is simply no other way…” (p. 41) When one of the girls was in danger from a family member, the nuns had a plan that involved risk to them and the girl; but the plan was bathed in prayer. Mrs. Lackovich-van Gorp found herself telling the nuns, “I’m praying, too…” and realizing after saying that, that “I meant it. Months before I couldn’t pray, perhaps because I only wanted to talk to God for my own selfish reasons. Now that I was praying for others, the prayers just flowed naturally.” (p. 50)
Throughout the course of the book, time passes, the Lackovich-van Gorps move back to America, and then on to Ethiopia, because of a job change for Dirk. The author finds work, as well, and they enjoy a new life in a new space. Mrs. Lackovich-van Gorp’s work takes her to an Ethiopian orphanage whose director, on discovering that she is both Orthodox and childless, speaks these life-changing words: “Maybe you should go home and pray… Then you should adopt.” (p.119) The Lackovich-van Gorps decide to adopt, not a baby, but an older child between 3 and 6. This decision is further evidence of Mrs. Lackovich-van Gorp’s stepping ever closer to God: “…when you decide to give your life to God—and when your life leads you to adoption—you just close your eyes and take a leap of faith.” (p. 122)
The book goes on through their journey through the adoption process, with evidence of God’s hand on their lives abounding as He not only opens doors for them to adopt a little girl, but also her baby sister. (They had prayed for a baby first, but lay that desire down in effort to be more helpful, as babies are more easily adopted than older children; but in Ethiopia, sibling groups must be adopted together, so the girls were a package deal, as well as an immediate answer to their prayers for a baby as well as an older child.) The book recounts their challenges: from the choice of names for the girls, to the difficulties in finding a car seat, to the joy of becoming a family to the frustration of sudden motherhood. Mrs. Lackovich-van Gorp finds herself praying more and more, not just to God, but also to the girls’ patron saints: “‘You know what my child needs more than I do. Approach God and use the words I cannot find to heal the (girls’) pain I cannot describe.’ …Thank God for His saints, as I do not know how we would have survived without them.” (pp. 147-148)
It seems, by the end of the book, that the author has attained her goal of living her faith from her heart. The book ends, but the challenge does not; neither for her nor for the reader. Near the end of the book, Mrs. Lackovich-van Gorp writes, “..peace with God must be cultivated. Once you’ve got it, it doesn’t automatically linger on… Keeping the faith within requires deliberate, dedicated work. I find true stillness when I step out of my day, even for only a few minutes at a time, with my prayer rope in hand.” (p. 182)
The book’s title in its entirety is Children of My Heart: Finding Christ Through Adoption. While it does include the Lackovich-van Gorps’ journey through adoption, the basic premise of the book is a story of a cradle Orthodox Christian woman finding Christ through the opportunities and people around her as well as the choices that she makes that help her to better follow God. Therein lies the jist of the story. Christian parents who read this book, whether or not they have adopted children, will be challenged in their faith and encouraged to follow God with all of their hearts, and lead their children in the way of God and His Church.
Children of My Heart: Finding Christ Through Adoption is available for purchase from Ancient Faith Publishing, here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/children-of-my-heart-finding-christ-through-adoption/