This is the text of our family’s tribute to Kalkidan at her memorial service. We all stood together lending our strength and love to Russ who spoke beautifully. You can watch the video on my One Thankful Mom Facebook page.
Thank you to each one of you for being with us today, celebrating and remembering our amazing daughter, Kalkidan. Your presence means more than you’ll ever know.
On Valentine’s Day 2006, Lisa got a phone call that would change our lives. Our friend Emily called to tell her that they were adopting two little boys from Ethiopia. Something happened during that phone call – a door opened just a crack and she glimpsed a possibility for our future.
We dipped our toe into the water of loving the fatherless and sponsored a child at an orphanage in Ethiopia. A picture of a little girl dressed in a frilly white dress, with tears in her eyes arrived in the mail. The story of her life was written in two paragraphs on a piece of paper.
That picture hung on our refrigerator and we prayed for this little girl far away in the country of Ethiopia.
Our family talked, prayed, and God opened our eyes more and more to the orphan crisis. We were not perfect parents, but we were good parents who loved Jesus and loved our children. We had something beautiful and we wanted to share it with children who needed a family.
We began the process – filling out mountains of paperwork, meeting with our social worker – getting fingerprinted. We decided to request two little boys, younger than our youngest child. We knew this would be just right for us.
Then our friends, Mark and Emily, traveled to Ethiopia to get their two sons. While they were in Ethiopia, they went to AHOPE to meet Kalkidan and take her a gift from us. As Emily talked with the staff there, the nurse said, “We hope your friends will adopt Kalkidan.” Emily explained that we were only her sponsors and that we were already adopting two little boys.
But this little girl began to burn in our hearts – we wept to think of her orphaned and very alone. The day came when we could no longer stand to think of her without a mother and father to call her their own. Lisa and I talked and prayed and soon found ourselves in the complicated process of adopting three unrelated children, through two different agencies – simultaneously. Our hearts were welded to hers.
Psalm 68:5-6 reads:
5 A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.
6 God sets the lonely in families…
God set Kalkidan in our family. When we walked through the blue gates of her orphanage and took her in our arms for the first time, we had no idea of the wild adventure that was about to begin. She brought the most amazing energy to us, with her bright eyes and darling dimples.
The first five and a half years of her life were filled with a great deal of suffering, and sometimes that made it difficult for her to let us come close to her. She wasn’t sure she wanted to be in a family because it was too frightening and such hard work.
There was a time when Kalkidan was going through a severe struggle and, one night, Lisa found herself kneeling by her bed. She refused to look at Lisa and pulled away when she attempted to touch her. Lisa prayed aloud, asking God to heal her heart and knit her to our family. She laid her hands on her head and said to her, “You are not an orphan. You are Kalkidan Ella Qualls.” Lisa repeated this truth several times, knowing Jesus in his great love and with his great plan, placed her in our family and gave her a new name. She was not an orphan, she was a Qualls.
Last year, Kalkidan went to a TobyMac concert with some friends. Afterward, she said to Lisa, “Mom, did you know that we can sponsor a child? It only costs $35 a month so they can have enough food and everything. I think we should do it.” Teasingly, Lisa said, “You know, I used to sponsor a child. Her picture was on our refrigerator and she was so cute. That was you.” They laughed and she said, “Mom…you don’t have to adopt every kid you sponsor.”
She went on to tell Lisa her dreams and plans for raising money to help feed the children at her orphanage and take care of children in need. This is a girl who experienced severe neglect and trauma and who has healed so dramatically. Lisa heard the voice of a child who believed she had a beautiful future and something to give. She was a miracle of healing in our midst.
When we adopted Kalkidan, we thought we were going to change her life – and we did. But in truth, she changed us even more. Her life opened our hearts to the hurting, the lost, the frightened, and the lonely. We learned to love and give, laugh and cry, and persevere in the face of struggles.
We are not the family we were before she became ours, and we will never be the same. We are thankful beyond words that the Lord allowed us to have Kalkidan with us, even if the time was far shorter than we ever imagined. It was our honor and privilege to call her our daughter, our sister, our friend. That God counted us worthy to be instruments of healing in her life, to give her our name, and call her our own gives us great, great joy.
Our memories are filled with her exuberance, her smile, her laughter. We had a glorious Christmas with gifts she lovingly selected for each of us. We ate good food that she helped cook, opened presents one by one for hours. The highlight of Kalkidan’s day was playing Ticket to Ride with her Dad and brothers, and beating them all. We ended the night sitting in a big circle, playing a family game that went on for at least an hour. We laughed so hard and I know we will all cherish that memory for the rest of our lives.
Thank you for loving our girl – for being her family, her friends, her teachers, pastors, and counselors. Our very heartfelt thanks to all who helped us the day of the accident and have been with us every day since. Other drivers (including Kendali, the nurse who stopped and gave her all to save Kalkidan); emergency crews who literally lifted us out of the rubble; Fire Chief, Jody Cuthbert, and his crew; the people who held our hands and comforted us in our time of great need; the wonderful caregivers at Kootenai Medical Center; and the friends (both old and new) who sat by our sides and did all that they could to help.
Once, Kalkidan was an orphan. But today we rejoice at the miracle of how many people came to love her. Your very presence here is healing to us. We truly feel your love – we feel it – and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. We’ve been blessed beyond measure to share Kalkidan with you. She brought light and life to all of us.