Wright Words: Dying woman's plea leads to adoption, bittersweet Mother's Day

Published: Tuesday, May 7 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

Max, left, Gael and Steve Shaffer pose for a photo. Max's birth mother had a terminal disease and asked her Christian church congregation if there was someone who could adopt her then 7-year-old son. It was Shaffers who adopted Max.

Provided by Steve Shaffer

On Sunday, May 2, 2004, Gael and Steve Shaffer of Woodstock, Va., walked into New Hope Church ready to worship. When they walked out an hour later, they’d taken an unexpected call from God.

With permission from the pastor, a local woman named Carol stood that day and announced to the congregation that she was suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and had only a short time to live. The single mother didn’t ask for prayers, money or a healing miracle — she pled for someone to adopt and raise her 7-year-old son.

The sickly, long-suffering woman had already made arrangements for her son and daughter to be adopted after the mother's impending death. But plans for her son, Max, had fallen through. His 12-year-old sister would move to Maine to live with her biological father, but young Max had no such options.

Through the salty tears of a dying woman, Carol stood spiritually and emotionally bare before the worshippers and asked, “Will a family please adopt my son?”

The Shaffers’ eyes met and they exchanged more than just a quiet glance. They shared the kind of moment that only comes when husbands and wives recognize that God isn’t just their perfect creator, he’s also a partner in any healthy marriage.

The Shaffers had been married just two years, and the middle-aged couple had already raised children in their first marriages. They’d considered and investigated traditional adoption and the idea of raising a baby together was attractive. But if the pieces couldn’t fall into place, they’d take the time to enjoy their new life together.

Over the next few days, Steve Shaffer says that friends, family and their pastor encouraged them to consider adopting Peyton Maxwell "Max" Mahaney. But it wasn’t earthy voices that had the greatest impact. “All week long,” Steve said, “God worked on our hearts.”

Six days after Max’s mother stood in church, the Shaffers took the young slugger to his Little League baseball game and to lunch. It seemed as though they chose to try to behave as a family to determine whether they could actually become one.

The next morning they all awoke to Mother’s Day. As is custom in many churches, each of the children at New Hope was given a flower to present to their mother. When Max approached his mom sitting reverently on her pew, she quietly suggested Max deliver the rose to someone else. “She told me to give it to Gael,” he recalled. “She was going to be my new momma.”

Watching her son walk away and hand the rose to another woman must have been among the difficult things for a mother to do. But when God called, Carol answered.

He was also calling the Shaffers, and they answered with courage. On Monday they began meeting with lawyers and social services. On Friday, Max came to spend the weekend with them.

He never left.

Just 12 days after his mother stood up before God and the congregation to ask for help from his children, Max had a new home.

As expected, Carol’s health deteriorated, and within two weeks, she was gone. A few days after her death, the couple had legal guardianship and the entire journey had lasted less than one month.

Though the housing arrangements and other logistics took time — Max slept in a hallway for some time — Steve noted how prepared they seemed in other ways. “God prepared our hearts long before the physical things were ready. Though we have no blood connection, there’s been a matching of gifts and talents. Somehow, it’s all just worked.”

That what happens when you answer the call.

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