instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Through grief to grace

As its subtitle suggests, Jantsen's Gift: A True Story of Grief, Rescue, and Grace is a book in three movements.

The first movement is the life of Pam Cope, a middle-class Midwestern housewife, from her childhood through the loss of her son Jantsen when he was fifteen. I say "through the loss" although, of course, that's not a loss anyone ever gets through.

The chapters on Jantsen's death and Pam's subsequent depression are not easy to read. But along with the sorrow and pain, there were moments of growth, as when Pam comes to a new understanding of God:
But the more I engaged in these quiet conversations [with God], the more I began to realize that maybe he wasn't the scary, judgmental, punishing force I had thought. Maybe, in fact, what I was coming to find was what I had spent so long searching for: grace.
The second movement is the beginning of Pam's work with Vietnamese orphans, and the establishment of the Touch a Life Foundation, which grew out of the $25,000 dollars people donated in Jantsen's memory.

While on her first trip to Viet Nam, traveling with a friend who was already involved in charity work there, Pam learned of the desperate plight of so many poor children in that country. She was reminded of a passage about a boy who had died alone, from the book The Dream Giver by Bruce Wilkinson:
It certainly cannot be God's will that any child die alone and abandoned. Surely God placed a particular set of interests and abilities in one person, somewhere in this world, and put that person in a time and place where great things could happen -- should have happened -- for that boy.
This experience unsettled some of Pam's long-held beliefs:
I had always believed that the only children I had been assigned to care for were my own. But that idea, and so many others I had about my place in the world, had begun to shift, and I was coming to understand my responsibilities as much larger.
This eventually came to mean not only adopting two Vietnamese children herself, and helping a number of friends to adopt other children, but running a charity to support a safe home for Vietnamese orphans.

Fundraising in her home town of Neosho, Missouri, was not easy:
Why Vietnam? Why not Neosho, or Newton County, or somewhere in America? We certainly have our fair share of problems, Pam. It's not that I didn't expect this question, or understand why people felt drawn to ask it; it just didn't make sense to me anymore. Because, that's why. Because a child is a child regardless of where they live....
Because is also why Pam got involved in supporting The Place of Rescue in Cambodia.

The final movement of Jantsen's Gift tells how, prompted by nothing more exceptional than a newspaper article, Pam expanded her work to include caring for Ghanian children who had been sold into slavery by their parents. She had read the article in The New York Times, on a trip to New York she took just after her family moved into a smaller house in part to save money for her work. She writes:
Randy [her husband] had recently read a quote to me by the author and poet John Ruskin: Every increased possession loads us with a new weariness....

And I know... I know... that it is only because I had unburdened myself -- financially, emotionally, spiritually -- that everything that happened [in Ghana] was able to, well, happen.
Jantsen's Gift, then, really is a story of grief, rescue, and grace. It's also something of a public service announcement regarding the plight of children in three very distant countries, and an effective introduction to the work of the Touch a Life Foundation.

More than that, though, the book is an invitation to readers to open themselves to the opportunities for rescue and grace that God has placed in their own lives. As Fr. Philip Powell, OP, writes in a comment below, "God gives me X, but X is not a gift until I receive it as one." Whether the reader receives this message of Jantsen's Gift as a gift is the reader's own choice.

(And just for the record, I received Jantsen's Gift as a review copy.)