I wonder what I was doing on 11th July 1990? It was 5 days before my 33rd birthday… We had been living in a rented house in Reigate for a few months while anxiously waiting for the sale of our first home in Cambridge to go through: the interest rates were at 14% at the time, houses were just not selling, so we were fortunate to get a buyer: anxiety levels over the sale were pretty high that summer! But by December we would be moving up the property ladder, buying our second home in this pretty, sought-after Surrey town at the foot of the North Downs – a Victorian detached house which was just beyond our means.
The children were 5 and 3: Rebecca settling into the Church of England Parish School just behind the house (we used to put her over the back fence into the playing field!) and Sam starting playgroup. While I kept things going on the home-front, Martin was working in a lab at the Institute of Cancer Research/Royal Marsden hospital in Sutton – taking the bus to and from work, up and down the A217. He was a Lecturer and Honorary Consultant at a top London cancer hospital and well on his way on an illustrious career path, full of hope and promise: we were an upwardly mobile professional family with everything in front of us.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, Jessica was born – into a very different world. Both her parents drug addicts, affected by her mother’s habit while in the womb, one of 7 siblings by different fathers, brought up with her beloved younger sister in an unstable environment. At the age of 9 she was thrown against the wall by her father in a fit of rage: the following year taken into care because of her ‘uncontrollable behaviour’ – and at 12 her mother overdosed on heroin, leaving her for good. Jessa grew up in numerous foster homes with chronic pain from the ruptured discs in her spine and struggling with understandable insecurity and anxiety, both of which have hampered her being able to pursue her life or a career, even though she is really bright. I cannot imagine how she has suffered – she has had to fight every step of the way.
In 2010 she found Sam on facebook, attracted by his comments about himself:
“I’ve got a certain dehabilitating illness and like to make uncomfortable jokes about it. Join me! International man of leisure with a tickling fetish. Likes raspberry yoghurt and Snoop Dogg”
How do you fall in love over the internet? Between them, Skype, facebook, the ups and downs of a brain tumour and sciatica and costly transatlantic phone calls they hatched a plot to get her out of the US and into his arms…
…and here she is! Larger than life, beautiful, intelligent – definitely a match for Sam, which is not easy! – affectionate, fiery, warm, caring, experienced and mature… yet only 20 years old. We are amazed by her bravery in leaving her home country, her sister and pet dogs, selling her laptop and guitar in order to afford the plane ticket… to throw in her lot with complete strangers and a young man with a terminal diagnosis. When she arrived just a month ago with a one-way ticket to Manchester she was very nearly turned back by immigration, and last week she didn’t even know where the medication she depends on would be coming from. But somehow grace has been found to ease her path into all our hearts and make an impossible adventure possible.
She is willing to look after Sam and I am relieved – practically and emotionally! She can cook and clean and is more than capable after years of having to be independent. At the same time she is vulnerable and in need of love and it seems there are a number of echoes with both my life-story and Becca’s. I know there is a lot more I don’t yet know and a lot hidden under the surface and the make-up, but we are trusting that this is working for good for us and for her and are committed to the journey together.
2 months today Jessa will be 21 years old. What a ‘coming of age’: she has lived a harder life than most of us ever see! Our worlds have collided and joined: she is now our daughter, part of our household and we have the opportunity to be the mum and dad she never had. Yes, its a bit mad to take on another dependant with no idea how things will work out. But what can we do? There is no time to waste… and the grace and pleasure of God is all over this. So whatever happens next, she is part of our family and along for this bumpy ride – at least until October when she’ll have to go back to the US. But that’s a very long time away on this journey…
And Sam – who will himself be 24 tomorrow – is very happy about that!