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

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

Nine Mother’s Days have passed and Max is more grateful than ever for his adoptive parents. “I feel so privileged and blessed to have them in my life,” he told me. “They've provided everything I need, and even some things that I want.”

Max admits that he was “worried, nervous and scared” in the early days of their relationship because he was too young to appreciate the miracle of the moment. “Today I know they want the best for me and they also help me to reach my best. I appreciate that, even though I do not show it.”

Spoken like a true teenage son.

Gael Shaffer, the woman who became guardian with a simple Mother’s Day rose, was quick to deflect praise to her husband. “I’ve learned what a tremendously important thing a father is in a child’s life. Max had never known a father until Steve. Max was hungry for what a father could provide, both the shared experiences and the discipline. I hadn’t had the opportunity to observe the change that occurs when a father appears in the life of a child who has never had one.”

Keen observations from a humble woman, but may she never forget that when God called, she was on the other end, too. Families start with mothers.

To flavor my understanding of Max's unusual journey, I asked his first grade teacher for her observations on this unique family saga. Melissa Dodge of W.W. Robinson Elementary School was Max's teacher the year his mother succumbed to her illnesses.

After heaping praise on the Shaffers for opening their hearts and home, Dodge offered that Max was her special challenge that year. "Max was defiant, stubborn, contrary, bright, strong and loyal and he knew exactly how to find my last nerve — every single time. Max has grown from a defiant little sparkplug on his own agenda to an amazing young man. He has become exactly what I knew he could, what I hoped and prayed for. He always had that special spark but in his early life it was diminished and overshadowed by his circumstances."

Dodge calls Max her greatest success story. "Not because of anything I did for him, but for what he has accomplished. He has taught me that no child is a lost cause and each one has potential for greatness. Sometimes you have to go digging for it."

Most of us will never adopt a child, much less in such unusual fashion. Nor will we likely be asked to grant a dying mother’s wish or upend our lives in some other dramatic way. No, our opportunities to serve probably won’t include a Mother’s Day miracle.

But what if the call came? Could I have responded the way this family did? Would you have recognized heaven’s hand in putting that particular son of God in your path? Shouldn’t we all be ready to embrace one who might not share our blood, but who shares our spiritual DNA with the same eternal father?

On a Sabbath Day in Virginia nine years ago, without knowing, a Christian couple set an example for the rest of us. No matter the question, no matter the service and no matter the sacrifice, we must be ready.

When God calls, will you have the courage to answer?

Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including "Christmas Jars," "The Wednesday Letters," and "The 96th Annual Apple Valley Barn Dance." He can be reached at jwright@deseretnews.com or jasonfwright.com.

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