Last week the foundation of my world shifted beneath me. I learned that Dana Marra the extraordinary, precious woman who gave me my children – had died Few people have ever had a greater impact on my life. She gave me my precious Russians.
Dana had an amazing life – God selected her to work miracles here on earth. Day by day she worked hand in hand with Him. Whenever I thought of her and what she meant to me, the words that flew into my mind most readily were "handmaid of the Lord". It hardly seemed right to use this phrase, uttered by Mary (Luke 1:38), about anyone else. And yet, even on further thought, that seems to me to be the role Dana played - in my life, and in so many others.
I remember vividly the first time I talked to Dana. I'd heard that some parents of a friend of Lydia's had adopted two Russian children. With all my love for Russia, and with my previous thoughts about adoption, I'd never heard such a thing was possible. The only international adoption I'd heard about was China. And, we'd looked into that and realized that never in this lifetime was it anything we could afford. And now - we were surely too old. But, when I met Lydia's friend's parents - they were clearly older than Craig and I, and they were clearly not all that well off; yet there they stood with their two little Russian children. So, on a whim, I contacted the first agency I had any knowledge of (vaguely, through someone at church) and I requested a packet of information about Russian adoption. Before the packet arrived - within only a day or two - I picked up the phone, and on the other end was Dana. Dana had a little Russian boy for me - when could I take delivery?
Coincidentally, right at the time I wrote to her, (are there coincidences?) Dana had a group of children in Michigan on a hosting program. The family who was hosting Sergei had decided not to adopt, and Dana was looking for a family for him. My heart stopped, I think, and I was filled with horror. I have never back-pedaled so fast!!! I was overwhelmed with panic! What had I done? I'd just been messing about with the idea! It was not even a pipe-dream! I'd just been day-dreaming when I asked for that packet - not serious!!!
This was one of the few times Dana had to use her persuasive powers with me! Persuade she did......in that, and in a few subsequent conversations over the next few days. Little did I know that she was using those powers with a few other families, as well. Now it makes me shudder with horror to imagine how close we came to losing our Sergei. But, advocate for children that she was, Dana was going to leave no stone unturned in order to find that boy a home. Dana also saw a deeper truth in all of it - she often said, "God gives you the children you are supposed to have." Sergei was ours from the beginning of time. But it was Dana's mission to deliver him.
Long story short, she cajoled me.....and praise God she did!
But, the expense - how could we afford adoption? We could afford adoption because Dana took almost nothing for her work with older children. This is where her heart was and if she saw a chance to get a child a good home, she was not going to allow money to stand in the way. All we paid was a few thousand dollars over the actual cost of travel and what we paid the people in Russia - and, Dana didn't work with the very expensive and very unhelpful Russian staff that many other adoptive parents complained about - the staff Dana had put together in Russia was amazing! To begin with, they were people we could trust and come to love, but they were foremost, caring people who did not see adoption as a path to undue riches. So, while other families, adopting from the same orphanages, paid over $40,000 to bring their children home, we paid just a bit over the cost of the tax refund.
And Dana was careful and knowledgeable. She took her responsibilities with each family very seriously. And she was good at what she did, scrupulous about detail. While families I knew, who went through other agencies, waited months and months, even years longer than we did, often finding it was due to errors and shoddy paperwork, we never had a glitch - not once in four adoptions, was there anything our agency did that caused a problem or a delay. Dana was absolutely trustworthy, and so respectful and wise in her dealings with the people in Russia.
With Sergei, at his hosting family, was another little boy, Valeri. He was a couple of years older, and there was no way we were going for two! But, he weighed on my mind, and more so, Dana’s. She cajoled me to “ask around”. I did better than that (well, let’s say I was “prompted”). Standing in the sacristy before Mass, I suddenly had the idea to have father make a plea for a family for this boy. I have to tell you, in a large Catholic Church such an individual and personal thing is rarely, if ever done – but the Spirit that prompted me, also prompted our pastor – and the family at Mass that morning who called me, interested in adopting Valeri. So, in that way, for the first time, I joined in this grand work Dana was doing. It was the first of many times. Dear, dear Dana was generous in her willingness to allow me, and others, to share in this wondrously loving work she did. And, somehow in that sharing, I developed a bond of love with her that was different and deeper than with any ordinary friend.
I cannot believe that I can never again tell her what she is to me! Not that I never told her! I tried to express it again and again - but in person, certainly, words failed. I am pretty sure I expressed it in writing. I think she knew on one level, but can't imagine how she could ever really understand how much she meant to me......
Dana Marra was my miracle. But for Dana I would not have my family. No Sergei, Zhenya, Nastya, Ilya - no Maxim. Who would I love? What would I do with my days? What would I have done with myself? How could have lived without this mission to love, that comes so clearly from God....but handed to me by Dana.
God rest her soul, and dear Lord, thank you, THANK YOU for her!
|Dana with Nastya and three other Russian girls whose lives she changed.|