River of Promise: two women’s story of love and adoption

reviewed by Judith E. Beckett, R.N.

By Judy Dahl, illustrated by Carol Jeanotilla
Published by Lura Media, 1988.

The notion of the river of promise in the title of this book began with the Christian Bible and the Nile River in Egypt where Jocabed, mother of Moses, set her son adrift in a basket of reeds to save him from being murdered by the Pharaoh. It is the subject of a Mother’s Day sermon that author Rev. Judy Dahl preached one Sunday and it became a metaphor for the journey that Dahl and her life partner, Terryl, took in search of a child.

“It’s time to trust our baby dreams to the river,” Dahl told Terryl, once they were well settled into their life together.

Dahl is an ordained minister in the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches and her book is suffused with the light of her relationship with the God she calls “Gracie.” While at seminary, Judy was assigned to glean the character that most resembled God to her from all the books, poems and plays she had read during her last semester. Judy chose Mama in Lorraine Hansberry’s play “Raisin in the Sun.” She found Mama “amazing.”

“The first time I went to her in prayer, heaven smelled like Sunday dinner,” she wrote. Then, one Sunday, while singing the hymn “Amazing Grace,” she named her God “Gracie.” Throughout her book, Judy talks with Gracie, seeking her advice and comfort as she and her partner struggle against a system that, for the most part, does not believe lesbians should be mothers.

Since Judy and Terryl were both in their late thirties when they made the decision to become mothers, they decided to explore both pregnancy and adoption as possibilities. Judy turns to Gracie when, month after month, the strip on the pregnancy test does not turn blue; when they are tossed about in turbulent waters by adoption agencies who don’t believe a child should be raised by two women; and whenever a birth mother changes her mind and another baby drifts away from them down the river.

Another metaphor from the Bible in this book is the story of Noah, the flood and the ark. It is also the name of the first child the river brings to Judy and Terryl. Their brief time with Noah and their struggle with the sorrow of their loss is a large part of this story. In spite of this experience, Judy and Terryl do not give up their dream. Judy writes that slowly “our hearts grew wings again” and “we were off and rowing.”

“Gracie,” Judy says, “I’m looking for the rainbow.”

“I’m lookin’ with you, Sugar,” Gracie replies.

In the end, there are eleven thin folders in a file cabinet drawer, each representing a child who was swept away by the river.

This small book (only 76 pages) is for all of you who are waiting by the river for a child. Judy Dahl, Terryl and Gracie are well-qualified to be your river guides. They will share with you the faith, hope and love that finally brought them to the rainbow.

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