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Leading by example

"Leading by example" Continued...

Issue: "Abortion: Delta force," Jan. 22, 2005

The Cooneys now have three daughters between the ages of 14 and 15 who have to deal with not only the usual volatility of that age but also bi-polar disease, partial fetal alcohol syndrome with resulting memory and learning difficulties, dyslexia, and Rachel's surgeries. Sometimes it can be hard for Janée, whose mom drank when she was pregnant, to see her sisters doing Algebra I and II, while she's still struggling with division.

On this particular Friday, Janée doesn't bother to eat breakfast. She tumbles out of bed and shuffles into the kitchen, her long hair mussed from sleep. She's intent on finding information about the tse-tse fly, part of a homeschool project on Africa. She hunkers down at the large, plastic-draped dining room table, reading about tse-tse flies, while her brother Stephen, 12, argues that he's seen tse-tse flies in Maryland, which leads him into the subject of his neighbor's Madagascar roaches, which he's sure are poisonous. Janée wearily rolls her eyes and shrugs as though she's heard that kind of silly talk way too often.

Stephen weighed only two pounds when he was born with cerebral palsy and "windswept" feet (both turned the same way) that meant he would never walk, doctors said-so when he saunters into the kitchen for breakfast, it's a big deal. Not content with the cereal choices, he holds open the refrigerator door and sees some leftover sauce that would be great on noodles. "Can I make some noodles?" he asks.

When his mother agrees, he gets out a small saucepan, fills it with water, and turns on the burner, playing with the steam as he waits for the water to boil. He plans to spill an entire bag of dry noodles into the water until his mom shows him that he only needs one cup. While they cook, he finds a jar of white sauce in the refrigerator, puts some in a bowl, and heats it in the microwave. As he puts the jar away he asks, "Can I use this sauce?" as if a bowl of it weren't already bubbling away in the microwave.

Meanwhile, 9-year-old Isaac, the sixth child of a drug-addicted prostitute, is eating a Pop Tart. "He's very ADHD," Terri says. "His focus is miserable. But he's a wonderful kid." He proudly shows off a large pyramid he's constructed from small magnetic blocks and strings a snaky length of fabric across the width of the den, where he anchors it on a doorknob.

One anecdote helps explain the attitude that helps the Cooneys press on: Soon after Rachel arrived, Terri and the kids were walking down the street. People began staring at faceless Rachel. "I saw they were staring and she was moving closer to me. I said, 'Rachel, they aren't staring at you. They're staring at me. They're asking, "Why is that old white woman with all those cute black kids?' And I just say, 'Try to figure it out.'"

Members of Mount Zion have been trying to figure it out for nearly 20 years-and many have gotten the message, with the Cooney family helping the church develop a heart for adoption. Terri says, "God has used us to knock down the reasons people might use to disobey the call: too old, house too small, not prepared to meet the needs of special-needs kids. People saw that God could meet needs."

She adds, "In part, because of us, [people learned that] just because God is telling you to do this, it doesn't mean it will be easy or quick." At Mount Zion, "We talk about, pray for, and rejoice over every single adoption. The church has developed the amazing heart for these kids."

Susan Olasky
Susan Olasky

Susan pens book reviews and other articles for WORLD as a senior writer and has authored eight historical novels for children. Susan and her husband Marvin live in Asheville, N.C. Follow Susan on Twitter @susanolasky.

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