Lorilee Craker: Why I'm grateful for my story

Everyone has a story, and as Lorilee Craker writes in the new book Homespun: Amish and Mennonite Women in Their Own Words (Herald Press), “I knew from early on that there were lots of different kinds of Mennonite stories.” She should know. She’s a self-described simple Mennonite girl from the prairies.

In the pages of Homespun, Amish and Plain Mennonite women swap stories and spin yarns while the reader sits in. As the book’s editor Craker collected these personal writings and authentic perspectives on life, hospitality, home, grief, joy, and walks with God from Anabaptist women’s periodicals. Among the stories shared are essays penned by well-loved Amish and Mennonite writers such as Sherry Gore, Linda Byler, Lovina Eicher, Dorcas Smucker, and Sheila Petre.

While her own story isn’t included Homespun, here she shares a little bit of about how she was adopted into a loving Mennonite home, and adopted by a Father who knows all of our stories.

Why I’m Grateful for My Adoption Story
By Lorilee Craker

In 1967, a handsome young physical education teacher and a pretty young teacher’s college student had a fleeting romance, or, as my birth father would describe it to me 45 years later, “four or five encounters.” At some point in those encounters, I was conceived. My first parents did not love each other. In fact, they would grow to loathe each other.

Vulnerable and alone in the big city of Winnipeg, my birth mother would resolve to give birth to me in total secret; her short-term boyfriend had already fled the scene with dizzying speed.

I was born on a snowy Wednesday in March 1968, to a 22-year-old mother who wept as I was taken out of her arms. She was alone in the cab which drove her from the hospital to her shabby apartment with its mattress on the floor and a sleeping bag for a bedspread.

My story began in this mess, in the debris of lust, loathing, abandonment and grief. Yet this messy beginning would not have the last word.

An Adopting Father stood tall in the rubble of my story. He had planted the seeds of redemption before my birth, before time began, and He rolled up his sleeves and got to work, making all things new.

When I was two weeks old, my parents got a call to say they could come pick me up. Actually, they were told they could come pick me out, but my dad insisted the social worker pick me out himself, and that would be God’s choice for their daughter.

(I recently found out that I came with a receipt. $8!)

I was brought home and raised in a humble, Cold War era bungalow on Kingsford Avenue, in the Super Mennonite part of Winnipeg. That’s right, we were Super Mennonites, which meant my parents spoke German (high and low), listened to German hymns on the radio, and did not disco dance, not even once.

We ate Mennonite meat buns, borscht, and Zwieback, and my dad told me and my younger brother, Dan (he cost $15), about his upbringing in Europe during World War II.

My dad was born in Ukraine during Stalin’s Great Purge. His grandfather was tortured and killed by Stalin’s troops, and two of his sisters, including his twin, Anna, died of starvation. The family fled when my dad was six, joining the retreating German army and fleeing to their ethnic Germany, away from the land Catherine the Great had given the Mennonites almost 200 years beforehand. Of course, fleeing to Hitler for refuge from Stalin was like going from the frying pan to the fire.

When he was ten, my dad joined his parents and his older sisters and crossed the Atlantic Ocean for Halifax, Nova Scotia. Canada opened its doors to my family again (my mom’s Mennonite family had come during the first wave of immigration, in the late 1800’s), and some relatives of my dad’s had sponsored them to come live in Winnipeg.

The family of seven lived for a year in a chicken coop with no insulation. I grew up on the next street over.

My dad was supposed to be in Grade 5 but was placed in Grade 1 because he did not know English. At first, kids threw rocks at him and called him a Nazi.

My dad learned English the quickest and became the family translator. When he was 11, he sat with my Oma and Opa at the bank, so he could help them get a loan for their first house in Canada.

My dad grew up to become a bookseller, with a deep passion for story and truth. The greatest thing in the world for him was to place the right story—whether it was in a novel or a non-fiction book—in the right hands at the right time. The refugee found refuge in stories. The immigrant settled in with a colony of people—his customers—who loved and revered story like he did.

My dad’s story became my story.

Because he and my mom adopted me, I would go on to adopt a baby girl from Korea.

Because an immigrant and refugee adopted me, I have a deep concern for refugees and immigrants. I know what it is, via my dad, to be welcomed as a stranger in a new land.

Because a bookseller and lover of story adopted me, part of my work on this earth is to write and tell stories.

Because an adoptive Father adopted us all, I know I am loved. I know He is making all things new.

I am so grateful for my story.

Learn more about Lorilee Craker online at lorileecraker.com. You can also find her on Facebook (@LorileeCraker), Twitter (@lorileecraker) and Instagram (@thebooksellersdaughter).