Every once in a while, a book will take your breath away with the opening sentence and hold it hostage until you have read the last tear-soaked page and closed the cover.
That’s what happened when I picked up Murder, Motherhood, and Miraculous Grace by Debra Moerke. A friend nonchalantly mentioned the book to me a few weeks before I had the courage to read it. Because I parent children with trauma, and I’m desperately trying to heal from my own trauma, I wish to read pure fiction, light-hearted, easy books. When she started reading the book, she kept texting me that I needed to read this book. She told me very little about it, but she knows me well, and I took her recommendation. I am so glad that I did.
Debra Moerke begins the story with a powerful opening. It’s simple in its entirety, and yet, it literally took my breath away. I have lived my own version of that moment. And it is indescribable: “Days that will change your life forever seldom announce themselves.” With those few words, I was hooked. Her style of writing is like having a conversation with a friend. Easy, relaxed, and so relatable. At times, I felt myself talking back to her; it felt so much like she was there with me, teaching me as we went. I could feel the steaming hot coffee sitting in my hand as we went deeper and deeper into this odd and beautiful life we live.
The author pours her heart out into every page. She holds nothing back in terms of her story, her heartache, her fears. And yet, there’s a reverent respect for the biological family of the children she fosters. Even when her worst fears are realized, you can feel the tangled up feelings of grief, sadness, anger, and confusion. And yet she doesn’t lash out. The author shows the depth of character in how she and her husband include their biological children in the foster lifestyle, and yet don’t impede upon their children in any way. The respect for their boundaries is evident, and the willingness of their children to be a part of the process is moving.
Murder, Motherhood, and Miraculous Grace is a great synopsis of the story of the Moerke family. It puts together two mothers, two families, and their love for four children that enter the foster care system. It embraces the highs, lows, and difficult realities of loving the children that pass through your home when you choose to foster. The complexities of relationships, adult to adult, child to child, adult to child. I, too, have lived through having a child removed from our home and sent home to her biological parent. I know the heartache, the joy of seeing a family succeed, and the helplessness of not knowing if that child is safe and loved. We can make assumptions about any situation. But the truth of the matter is that we must have a certain level of trust for these biological parents. And we are helpless to help if things go awry. The knowledge of knowing that you have no right to worry and no way to stop it is not an easy reality to face.
As you move through the story, you will be amazed by the strength of the author as the story progresses. In the midst of heartbreak, she and her husband display the realities of grief—that you can and will be at different places in that grief and be able to coexist and move forward. They also embrace the impossible beauty of love: the life of a child that is not biologically connected to you and yet so immediately important. The mixed emotions of not knowing if loving that child will pay off in the ways you expect and imagine. The impossible decision of trusting someone who has previously been in a state of untrustworthiness, and yet feeling compelled to place your heart, once again, in her hands. An impossible decision. And yet so remarkably simple.
With the addition of their youngest child, the Moerke’s life becomes more entangled with the biological mother of her former foster children. At one point, I wondered if the Moerke family could possibly withstand the pressure that was being placed upon them. And yet they did so with grace and dignity. With every high, there is a never-failing low. Yet, the author and her family walk through grief with their children with love and grace. Every decision the parents make will affect their entire family. They never lose sight of this, no matter the desires of their own hearts. You can virtually hear the love, concern, and conversation in its entirety when having difficult conversations with their children at the request of the biological mother of their former foster children—a decision that would connect them for eternity and would undeniably change the makeup of their family forever.
It is with awe and wonder that a seemingly loaded topic of conversation that has the potential to cause a lifetime of heartache and hurt is so simply overcome by grace and love. Miraculous grace, if you will. I imagine having these conversations with our children and the concerns and questions that would come from the information at hand. I am shaken at the immeasurable amount of love in their hearts for others. The entire family embraces the chaos, jumps headlong into the fire without a thought as to what they may be giving up.
As loving and as accepting as her family was with all that was laid before them, the outside world did not show her as much acceptance. Instead, with every turn, there were more heartaches, resistance, worry, and stress. But this didn’t keep them down. They turned more readily to God, deeper into their faith, and more fervently to prayer. Eventually leaving it completely to God and submitting to the peace and relief of full surrender.
Throughout the journey of the Moerke family, I was left speechless with the change of every chapter. With every turn of the page, there was another example of grace, forgiveness, and astonishing faith. The power of prayer is undeniable in the life of this family. Every person that came through the doorway was given patience, understanding, and love—even if only for a night.
Just when you think that the hardest parts, the biggest changes and challenges are behind them, their story takes another twist. The turns take their family back into chaos and uncertainty. Their lives change in equally difficult ways. Through unimaginable career changes, journeys that lead to hard family decisions, and ultimately leads them all back home.
Home, where their history haunts them, and fear of that history following and eventually catching up with their youngest child. And yet, the Moerke family handles it all with love. There is very little about this story that one could say is, or was, easy. And yet the ease and peace that you can feel in every turn, every twist, every decision is palpable.
Fostering and adopting our children has made the Moerke family’s story all too real for me. There are moments throughout their life that I can fully relate to. While the story and outcomes are vastly different, the raw emotions, lack of control, and helplessness are universal. The highs and lows connect us. Where I would have once said that forgiveness and love were impossible, I now know that belief to be wrong. It has changed my view of biological parents and their fault/blame in the process. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some that will never seek forgiveness, will never experience remorse, will never come to a place of guilt, acceptance, or healing.
Reading this story has caused me to seek Christ in a new and more desperate way, to reevaluate my relationships with my childrens’ biological families. To know them, let my children know them, and to be loved by them. To remove the stigma associated with the “guilty” party. To teach my children firsthand that people can change, that mothers can make poor decisions, can make mistakes too big to fix, and yet can heal and be healthy. That mothers can love and still not be able to parent.
No step of the foster care journey is easy, but with Debra Moerke as a guide, I know that impossible things are possible. The reality of foster care and/or adoption is that someday, you could write your story, and it could turn out very similar to Murder, Motherhood, and Miraculous Grace. Knowing that you are not alone in this crazy, broken world is refreshing and comforting in the most ridiculous of ways. The circumstances of the life we live, the lives that cross into ours, if only for the shortest of times, have been put there to test, taunt, and teach us.
Debra Moerke chose an intriguing and perfect title for her story. It’s so much more than a book. It’s a life. A myriad of lives. The pieces that make up a dark, desperate, and delightful puzzle. It is a work of art that will change your life, inspire you to be a better human, and hopefully be a guide to love and forgiveness for everyone in your life.
I would encourage you to read every page of this story: the foreword, the acknowledgments, the interviews. Read it all. Devour it. Take in as much of the author and her story as you can. I pray that it changes you and your heart like it has changed mine. I pray that you will see the beauty and grace in the Moerke family story—page to page, human failure after human failure, and yet you will find in this family a continual stream of love and forgiveness.
I wonder how this story might have been different if the biological mother had a loving, forgiving, understanding mother. How would it have changed her, her story, and the lives of each of her children? Would her children have been able to live long and healthy lives in her home? Would they have known Jesus? These are similar to the questions I ask about my own children. Their biological families are not monsters. They are humans. Humans who have made mistakes, just as I have. I know there are differences between us. I would like to say that in the same situation, I would not have made the decisions they made, but I can’t say that for certain.
I have a belief that in sharing our stories and sharing our truths that it will relieve the pain and sting, the shame and guilt, the whispers, gasps, and shudders that can often follow the innocent lives of those affected by the parents who gave them life. Speaking truth and speaking it loud takes away the power of others to hurt you with assumptions and mistruths. Debra Moerke did that for her children. She spoke the truth in her story in one of the most powerful ways possible.
When I finally read the last word, devoured it in its entirety, I closed the book and sobbed. Hard, gut-wrenching sobs. I processed it out loud with my friend. And I prayed. I prayed that I could be filled with forgiveness for myself, my children, and their first families—that when faced with hard times and hard decisions, I could be empathetic and kind where I may be led to react with pain, hurt, and resentment. I prayed that I could lead my children throughout their lives with a calm countenance, kind heart, and miraculous grace.