Bestselling author and speaker Lisa Harper recounts her labor-of-love journey into becoming a mom, and her daughter Missy joins in on the fun! Don’t miss a single episode of Dinner Conversations — subscribe below!
TRANSCRIPT FROM THE SHOW
Mark: Dinner Conversations is brought to you by ChildFund, a community development organization that has been envisioning a world where every child is free to live at their fullest potential no matter where they’re from or what challenges they face since 1938.
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Mark: A child is waiting.
Mark: I’m excited about our guest today, Lisa Harper. I met her when I was hired to work at Women of Faith many years ago. And she is an incredible orator. She can take the cookies like I’ve said I wanna do and put them on the bottom shelf so everybody can get them. She’s a theologian. She went to seminary.
Andrew: She knows Greek and Hebrew.
Mark: And their little brother, Aramaic. And she’s here today, and I’m so excited for you to get to know and hear her story.
Andrew: Uh-huh, it’s an incredible story of adoption. She is a single mother who adopted a Haitian girl who had HIV, Missy. So a lot of different angles and challenges in that story. But what Lisa talks about is Psalm 68, how God gives the solitary a home and how she discovered a home for what she calls her orphan spirit through providing a physical home for her daughter, Missy.
Mark: And there’s one seat left at the table, and it’s yours. So let’s join the conversation.
Mark: All right, let’s pray. Father, thank you so much for this day. Thank you for Lisa and the ministry she has.
Andrew: Do you want to hold hands?
Lisa: Are you whispering during the prayer?
Mark: Oh God.
Lisa: Oh you’re a total two.
Mark: Forgive us for holding hands, Lord. Thank you for our food and pray that something eternal happens. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Lisa: This feels very religious.
Mark: Kumbaya, my Lord. I was raised Baptist. We didn’t do that.
Lisa: I don’t know if you noticed. I wanted to do the same thing. I went, and it was like I felt that.
Mark: Oh, you wanna hold hands?
Lisa: Oh yes. I’m such a connector.
Mark: We never did that.
Andrew: She reached toward you, and I whispered to her, “You want to hold hands?”
Lisa: I heard the whisper. I was trying to be spiritual.
Mark: I wish I had known that.
Lisa: Oh no, I’m such a toucher. I’m real tactile.
Mark: Are you?
Lisa: Which is hard when you’re single and 54 to be tactile.
Andrew: Well, it leaves one option.
Lisa: I get a lot of massages.
Mark: Oh. You are single and adopted a child.
Mark: What were you thinking?
Lisa: I wasn’t thinking. Now I’ll tell you what I was thinking. I thought in my forties, I have blown it. I have totally sabotaged the shot at being a mom. And so I thought that’s not gonna happen for me. As much as I wanna be a parent, that’s not gonna happen for me. I was really, really broken. And Mark, we’ve talked about this. Andrew, we haven’t.
Lisa: I feel like I had this tattoo on my forehead for years that said, “Please, if you’re an abusive man with bad hygiene, sit next to me ’cause I’ll have you.” From some abuse stuff in my past, I really gravitated to abusive men. So God protected me from the men I was drawn to. And then the few good godly guys like y’all I dated, God protected them from me ’cause I was hot mess on a stick. And so I don’t think God is punitive, but there are consequences to those kind of seasons of toxic relationships. So I got healthier by the grace of God and good counseling in my forties, and I thought, I’m not gonna to get to be a mom ’cause my ovaries are raisins at this point. Which you didn’t know anything about that, but I digress.
“I feel like I had this tattoo on my forehead for years that said, ‘Please, if you’re an abusive man with bad hygiene, sit next to me ’cause I’ll have you.'” – Lisa Harper
Mark: Your eggs were fried.
Lisa: I think they were out of the pan fried.
Andrew: I’m trying to visualize.
Lisa: I know. I kind of don’t wanna visualize it.
Mark: And by the way, on Dinner Conversations, we’re the only ones that really get to eat.
Lisa: I know, I know. And I’m hungry. I’m doing this fast thing where I haven’t eaten in 20 hours, so I’m about to punch you in the face.
Mark: We don’t mind people talking with their mouth full.
Lisa: But I just got to the point of going, I think maybe God has called me to adopt a kid who doesn’t have a shot at a mom and a daddy. And that started this multi-year process. I lost a couple of adoption attempts before I got Missy, but it has just been God’s absolute redemption. I still wake up every day. I’m worn slap out. I’ve been a single adoptive mom for almost four years. I told Cindy Morgan I was tired to the marrow of my bones. But it’s the most glorious kind of tired. But it always points me back to how redemptive God is because I didn’t deserve this. Didn’t deserve to be her mama, and you know she wasn’t supposed to live. Her first momma died of AIDS. My little girl has HIV, but she had tuberculosis and cholera, lived in Haiti, very sick. They encouraged me not to adopt her. They said she won’t live long enough to get back to Nashville, and she now is healthy as a horse. She has abs. That’s really the only way you can tell she’s not my kid ’cause I think we look alike. I’m convinced I have brown skin. But honestly it’s been the most glorious thing other than my salvation that has ever happened to me.
Andrew: Don’t you think when you’re like, I didn’t deserve something– The redemption story that you’ve experienced through the adoption. But that sounds like a parental thing, even if it’s a biological child, to experience. You were telling me earlier what your counselor said, and you may not want to share that.
Lisa: No, I’ll share anything.
Andrew: But about how your counselor wished you had taken care of yourself for yourself.
Andrew: But now you are taking care of yourself because of Missy.
Andrew: In a different way.
Lisa: And in a very kind way. I usually imitate my counselor in ways that afterwards she’s like, “You know, I said that a little nicer.” I’m like, I know, I know. But she basically said, “Lisa, this is what God has wanted you to do your whole life, is to take care of you and recognize your worth. And now the places where you’re finally taking care of yourself, you’re doing it on behalf of Missy.” And she said, “But you need to know you’re worth so much to God. He wanted you to live this way before you were a mother. This isn’t about Missy. It’s about you taking care of your heart and recognizing your worth before the Lord.” And there are moments when I will be so overwhelmed with love for her. Like the other day she said, “Mama, are you crying again?” I was like, “Yes, baby.” And she goes, “Happy tears.” She’s like 50-years-old. I was like, “Yes, baby.” And she goes, “‘Cause you love me so much.” I was like, “Yes.” I was just moved. I don’t remember what she was doing. Something really just minor, yeah, very benign. But sometimes I’ll go, I can’t believe this is my kid. I just think she’s brilliant. I love everything she does. I love the way she walks and talks, and she’s an amazing kid. And God will catch me in those moments and go, “What you’re feeling for her is a drop in the bucket of what I feel for you. “I am undone by you. I’m so taken with you. I’m absolutely biased about you.” And then I go, “Goodnight, Lord. I missed it all these years, all these years.”
Mark: Doesn’t it make sense though? I’ve always said that people with children should get the love of God better than those of us who don’t.
Lisa: I could preach it to everybody else. I could make an acrostic about it. But at the end of the day, grace was like wet soap for me. It was hard for me to hang on to. And so it has been through being a single mom, I think, that I’ve really begun to understand the fatherhood of God. At least in part.
“I could preach it to everybody else. I could make an acrostic about it. But at the end of the day, grace was like wet soap for me. It was hard for me to hang on to.” – Lisa Harper
Mark: Didn’t you have any role models of single mothers with children? ‘Cause you took on something that I am single and I wouldn’t do.
Andrew: And in the evangelical world. I do want you to go into that.
Mark: Yeah, how did you?
Lisa: I may as well smoke cigars.
Mark: How did your?
Lisa: Wear trashy clothes.
Mark: What responses did you get from your church people when you?
Andrew: When you were first considering, yeah?
Lisa: When I was first considering, I had a woman in small group from church– Actually, I decided I’m not gonna tell everybody at church because sometimes in the South, women disguise gossip as prayer requests. Not in your church. But anyway, every blue moon I’ve come across that. And I thought, I’m not gonna tell a whole bunch of people ’cause I don’t want everybody up in my grill. I’m just gonna tell my small group. And I’d been to a women’s conference where I thought I was going to a breakout session on missions. And instead this girl starts talking about adoption. And she said there were 147 million– I even remember where I was sitting. This was, goodness, 10 years ago now. She said there’s 147 million orphans in the world as we know it today. And she said many of them will die without intervention of very preventable issues like malaria or not having access to clean water. And then she quoted that verse from James that says, as Christ followers, we’re to take care of the widows and orphans, the poor and the marginalized. And then she paused for a minute. She’s a darling girl, a little blonde girl, didn’t look confrontive. She paused for a minute. She kinda glances out over this crowd of very well-healed Christian women. And she went, what are you doing about it? And I’m sitting in the back of the room, and I thought, gosh, I didn’t know I could do anything about it. I’m 40, I’m single, and I thought, maybe God’s telling me I’m to volunteer, do short-term missions for an orphanage in a third-world country. I was just so stirred, and I couldn’t get past it. So I thought, okay, Lord, I don’t know exactly how you want to work this out, but I’m just gonna to tell a few people that God’s really stirring me over the issue of adoption. I don’t know what that means. I just wanna be faithful. And these three girls in my small group basically said, we’ll pray for you and pray that you’ll have wisdom and clarity regarding what you’re supposed to do about this. One of them said, “If you have time later on this week, I’d love to meet you for coffee and process this further.” And over coffee, this girl I knew from church, and she was well intentioned. Mark, Andrew and I have talked about this. She thought she was doing the right thing. But after a few minutes of small talk, she said, “Lisa, I just wanna be real straight with you and tell you I don’t think you’re a good candidate for motherhood.” She said, “You’ve shared with our small group that you were sexually molested when you were younger.” And she said, “I know you’ve been in Christian counseling and all that, but just in case you weren’t fixed, you might unwittingly transfer some of the trauma you experienced as a kid onto a child of your own.” So she said, “I don’t think you’re a good candidate for motherhood. I know you want to nurture something. So my encouragement would be for you to go to the Nashville Humane Society and adopt a pet ’cause you’re really good with animals.” And I should have known ’cause by then I’d been walking with Jesus for a long time. I came to know the Lord when I was a little bitty kid. I should have known this poor woman is a crooked little tree.
Mark: Is a what?
Lisa: Crooked little tree. Somewhere in her backstory, she experienced such a severe drought that she doesn’t bear good fruit now. And so I should have recognized that and treated her with respect but not heeded what was falling out of her mouth. Recognizing that God didn’t ever say, “You’re not good enough for this.” He might say, “I’ve got a different walk for you.”
Andrew: And who would be qualified for parenthood?
Lisa: Nobody, nobody. It’s like who would be qualified to be a container for the Holy Spirit? But because of that conversation, and I always say the enemy is so much savvier than we give him credit for. I think we do ourselves such a disservice when we characterize him to wear a Beyonce onesie and horns. And he’s meaner than that, and he’s crueler than that. And in my life, he will take just a grain of truth, and he weaves that into some kind of awful poison that I’ll swallow because it smells and tastes familiar because he’s got enough truth in there. Because my greatest fear was because of that damage when I was younger, I wouldn’t be a good wife or a good mom. And even though I will again talk redemption for everybody else, I thought there’s part of my story that’s so heinous, that’s so ugly that I know God has covered it ’cause he feels sorry for me. But the fact that God could actually delight in me in spite of that, that was just too good to be true for me.
“I always say the enemy is so much savvier than we give him credit for. I think we do ourselves such a disservice when we characterize him to wear a Beyonce onesie and horns.” – Lisa Harper
Andrew: Not even in spite of it, but with it as part of your story.
Lisa: Exactly, with it. And so after she told me that, the next day I took the adoption application, put it in the back of my file drawer, drove after work to the Nashville Humane Society, adopted a chocolate Lab named Sally with bladder control problems.
Mark: Over that woman saying that?
Lisa: Over that woman saying that.
Mark: That poor dog had to go home with you because of that woman?
Lisa: She peed all over my house.
Mark: You regretted it?
Andrew: That’s how you know it wasn’t from God.
Lisa: She was a sweet dog, and I love dogs, but she wasn’t God’s will for me. It was seven more years.
Mark: But you treated her real good.
Lisa: I treated her real good until she died. But it was seven more years before I finally said–
Mark: Over that woman?
Lisa: Over that woman.
Mark: That crooked tree?
Lisa: That crooked tree. I mean, it wasn’t her fault. It was my fault. I should have known. I mean, she was a stinker.
Andrew: She participated in it.
Lisa: She participated in it, but I should have known the voice of Jesus enough to go, that’s not my Jesus. He didn’t talk like that.
Mark: But you gotta taste the fruit.
Andrew: Yeah, but that’s why you’re talking about the devil didn’t just have a onesie and stuff. It’s the element of discouragement, especially in the messages that we’ve been repeating to ourselves since we were children.
Lisa: That’s right, especially in the arena of shame. To me, shame is the most confining, oppressive. That was my straight jacket for years and years, which is so cool, Mark. My little girl, you would think, her first mom and dad when she was two, incredibly impoverished, has no idea who her biological father is. If anybody deserves to wear an orphan spirit, it would be my little girl. My little girl would come bust in here right now and be like, “Hey, Mr. Mark, nice to meet you. You have a plate for me?” She’s just like– She has such a strong sense of self that I think isn’t it a hoot that God would take a woman who’s a Bible teacher, who memorized Greek and Hebrew in seminary so I’d sound smart and somehow justify myself.
Mark: Wait, stop. Wait.
Mark: You memorized?
Lisa: Oh, just a few words to sound smart. Not that much. Greek and Hebrew from seminary. So people would be like, Oh, she’s such a deep Christian. But yet I struggle with the orphan spirit. My little girl from Haiti who was an orphan, there’s no– She doesn’t smell like an orphan, look like an orphan, act like an orphan. She calls God her daddy. She calls human daddies daddies with skin on and God Daddy God. She’s just like, “My Daddy God thinks I’m the bomb.” And I’m like, “Yeah, he does.” But how cool that he took an orphan to lift the orphan spirit.
Andrew: Yeah, what if that was a specific gift to you? What if Missy was literally a specific gift?
Lisa: I absolutely think it was.
Andrew: So who are you?
Missy: My mom’s child.
Andrew: Yes, you are. That’s true. But you are Missy. And I’ve heard a lot about you, but today’s the first day we’ve actually gotten to meet each other, isn’t it?
Andrew: Uh-huh, and we’re sitting here and.
Missy: And this is my whole house.
Andrew: Mm-hmm, is this all yours?
Missy: Well, mostly my mom’s.
Andrew: Like your mom lives out in a little shack in the?
Missy: There’s no way. She has a bedroom right there, and that’s where I sleep. I sleep with with her because sometimes I get scared of the dark.
Andrew: You do? So what do you do when you get scared of the dark?
Missy: I don’t know, panic.
Andrew: But I heard a story where you had a friend who when you came to school one day asked you a question, and when George, who we’re calling George, your friend at school, asked you about who’s your daddy, what did you and your mom talk about as far as we all have the same daddy? We all have skin daddies, uh-huh.
Missy: Skin daddies and skin mommies.
Andrew: Uh-huh, and then who else do we have as a daddy?
Missy: Daddy God.
Andrew: Daddy God. Yeah, that’s right. So you have people who have skin daddies and people who don’t have skin daddies. Some people’s dads may have died, some may have left and not come back. Some, like in your book you talk about, some are in the military or have jobs that take them far away from home for long stretches of time.
Missy: Like George’s daddy.
Andrew: Mm-hmm, his dad is in the military? So he has to go– His job takes him all around the world for long stretches of time sometimes. So even when he’s missing his skin daddy, who’s always there?
Missy: Daddy God.
Andrew: Daddy God. That’s right, yeah. Which means we have the same dad. Do you ever think about that? That’s pretty cool, huh?
Missy: It is pretty cool.
Andrew: Do you remember the first time that you met your mom?
Missy: Well, when I was a baby.
Andrew: Mm-hmm. Do you remember how old you were?
Andrew: No, but you were little, weren’t ya?
Andrew: Yeah, do you remember what happened? I remember your mom saying something about when she first held you.
Missy: I said, “Hello, white mama!”
Andrew: So what would you call me if you met me for the first time again? What would you say?
Missy: Hello, handsome.
Andrew: Oh yeah. That’s right. Hug?
Andrew: All right now I’m not so scared. I loved when I walked in and I was nervous and you gave me a hug. Kind of like Daddy God, huh? All right. You wanna show me around your house a little bit?
Andrew: Okay. What is this over here? What are you growing?
Missy: This is dead. There’s actually a few.
Andrew: Did you say that’s dead?
Missy: Well, these dead plants.
Andrew: Yeah, sure is. What was it? Tomatoes? Someone doesn’t have a green thumb. Say your last peace. Here goes Missy down the slide. We don’t know when she’ll return.
Andrew: Administer my last rights. Three, two.
Missy: I might have to go first.
Andrew: Okay, you show me how it goes. Well, we got to do at the same time, ready? Three, two, one. Who wins? How old do you think I am? Go ahead and take a guess.
Missy: Way more than fifties?
Andrew: Closer. One, two, three, sit down. She made me go high. Way to go, Missy. Woo!
Missy: Thank you. What’s your name?
Missy: Andrew. Thank you, Andrew.
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Mark: You’re the only mother she’s really ever known, right?
Lisa: Yeah. Well, she knew her mama was so sick, Marie, when she was born.
Mark: She remembers her?
Lisa: She didn’t have any memory. She died when Missy was two, but I talk about her all the time. We go back to Haiti because I want Missy to love where she’s from. I’m like in the sovereignty of God, it would’ve been nice if her mama was Parisian or Hawaiian, but she wasn’t. She was Haitian, and so we go back to Haiti on a regular basis. And a bunch of women in the village, real rural village– You said you love rural things. About two hours from Port-au-Prince. Bunch of women there have gotten saved because when I brought Missy back the first time, they thought she had died because the last time they saw her she was so sick. And so we got off this little shuttle bus from Port-au-Prince. ‘Cause God had been saying for about a year, “You need to take her back to Haiti.” I was like, “No, sir. It’s not a good idea.” She almost died in Haiti. They basically kicked her out of her village and the orphanage because of HIV. My baby was a citizen with no home. So it was like. mm-mm, I’m not taking Missy back to the place that almost killed her. I’ll go back. I’ll write checks.
“Bunch of women there have gotten saved because when I brought Missy back the first time, they thought she had died because the last time they saw her she was so sick.” – Lisa Harper
Andrew: Sure. So it was protective over her? Very protective.
Lisa: Oh no, very protective over Missy. Now I support her maternal grandmama and her great aunt. I love them. But we went back for the first time a year ago. We stepped off the bus, and women started to scream in her village, and they’d say, “It’s a miracle. It’s a miracle.” They thought she had died years before. And so I said, “Missy, I want you to go all around and ask these women to come. We’re gonna do a little Bible study in the community center tomorrow.” Now, if y’all exploit my kid, I’ll cut you. But I can exploit her for the sake of the gospel. She asked all these people, and they would scream. They thought I was a high voodoo priestess at first ’cause they thought the kind of magic to take that little girl from death to life. Well, so all these women come the next day to this little community center. You know, these huge rough, wooden benches? Maybe like the good old days with the Gaithers, you know. No PowerPoint, nothing fancy. Hot as can be. That’s the thing that’s hard for me about Haiti. I’m a sweater, and it is hot.
Mark: Hot as Haiti.
Lisa: But we’re in there in the community center, and all these women came to Christ because they said there has to be some type of a correlation between this Jessie, Jesus, you talk about, ’cause I know she was dead and now she’s alive. So it’s been the coolest thing. The village prostitute has come to know Jesus. She’s discipling one of the girls in the village who was sold as a slave for less than an American dollar. All because this little peanut’s story. Not because Missy has said much. It’s just the transformation of near-death to life in her.
Andrew: So you’re her witness?
Lisa: Yeah, ’cause they go, this isn’t just– Y’all aren’t just talking this stuff. This isn’t just a bunch of white bossy Americans. This is true.
Mark: I follow you on Instagram.
Lisa: I should probably say I’m sorry. All I ever talk about is Jesus and Missy.
Mark: Do you think or are you concerned at all that this kind of exposure for her could be a problem later?
Lisa: Mm-hmm. We talk about it, and I’ll tell her, I’m like, “Baby–” Way back in the day, a friend I know who has a child with HIV said, “Lisa, the only way we’ll get rid of the stigma of HIV is to talk about it.” Well, I had brought Missy home. Maybe I’d had her home three months, and I’m talking to this girl and she said, “I just have to tell you I’m kind of undone by how often you talk about how God is healing Missy’s HIV.” She said, “I won’t talk about HIV publicly because of the stigma.” I went, “You were the one who told me.” We talk about this stigma. She goes, “Oh, I was just blowing smoke. I can’t believe you really do it.” I was like doggone, you’re high.
Andrew: ‘Cause she’s afraid of people’s responses.
Lisa: She’s afraid. Well, she–
Mark: HIV is not a death sentence anymore, correct?
Lisa: It’s so not a death sentence. Missy’s life expectancy is the same.
Mark: They got the cocktail.
Lisa: They have a cocktail. She’s on three antiretrovirals twice a day. Her CD4 count’s higher than mine, which means she has more white blood cells to fight infection. Her HIV numbers, the most sensitive test they have for pediatric HIV to test for it, measures 20 parts per million in the blood, and she doesn’t show up on that test. So she is essentially healed. She’s got a great doctor. She needed love and medicine. She didn’t need to be healed like I needed to be healed spiritually. She needed love and medicine. But what’s been so cool is I get constant letters from people who will say, “I thought there was no way I could adopt ’cause I’m single.” And/or “I thought there’s no way I or we should adopt a child with HIV ’cause I thought they’ll just die and it’ll break my heart. And then I watched you on social media.” ‘Cause I think social media can be so stupid.
Mark: But they can be a great tool.
Lisa: But it can be a great tool. You can use it for good or evil. But because they’ve seen some little silly thing on Instagram or something, they’ll go, “I went ahead and checked the box that we would take a child with HIV.” So there’s several children that have been adopted because of Missy who have HIV, and I’m like, they’ll live full lives.
Mark: Single moms have done this?
Lisa: Both and.
Mark: Okay, but then let me ask you this. For the person who’d say, “Well, yeah, it’s easy for you. You’re a national book seller, national New York Times. Who knows what all, millions of books. You’ve got money.”
Andrew: There he goes, hyperbole.
Lisa: That’s not just hyperbole. That’s a flat lie. That’s just a lie, but I appreciate it.
Mark: You’ve done well. You’ve probably done well.
Lisa: I’ve done okay.
Mark: Okay, but well enough to– How well do you have to do? Could a school teacher do this?
Lisa: Oh, school teachers are phenomenal mamas.
Mark: Well, of course they are, but financially.
Lisa: You don’t have to have that much money. Financially, I was the most worried about Missy’s meds. Her meds are a little over a thousand dollars a month. And I thought, Lord, I don’t have this. I’m telling you he provides. I’ve never taken him at his word. And I’ll memorize those verses. But for him to say, “I’ll meet all of your needs according to my glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” I’ll teach that. I never had to hang on to that. Mark, that was the knot at the end of my rope because some things happened, and I was like, Lord, I don’t know what I’m gonna do. I had enough to bring her home, but I don’t know what I’m gonna do. Just I have been flooded. I’ve never ever, until I adopted Missy– So you say I’ve done well. I didn’t do that well ’cause I never had a royalty. Do you know when I went to Haiti the last time my roof fell through? I had hired a contractor who struggled a little bit with liquor. And he stole just a little bit of money from me to the tune of $38,000. And I didn’t have it. I was like, “Lord, that was what I’d saved up to redo my little girl’s room.” I was like, I don’t have that. Never in my whole life have I received a royalty. Do you know I did a Bible study with LifeWay, and the very first royalty check I ever got was when I came home from Haiti was for $38,000. And so he has provided every step of the way. And I don’t mean to sound all hyper name-it-claim-it. It’s been true for us. And everybody I meet who follows the will of God– You’re not just adopting a kid ’cause you wanna do it because it’s trendy. But if God tells you this is what I’ve called you to, I’m telling you he’s a father to fatherless and husband to husbandless. We experience it all the time.
Dinner Conversations Sponsorship Message
Mark: You can help change the life of a child today by partnering with Andrew and me and supporting a boy or girl in Guatemala through ChildFund today.
Andrew: Your sponsorship will not only improve the future of one child’s life. Your child sponsorship will promote communities in Guatemala, the communities that Mark and I just visited where we saw parents who are learning to value and to protect and to advance the worth and rights of their teens and children who through your child sponsorship are literally changing the culture of each child’s community from the inside out.
Mark: Perhaps you already sponsor a child. Would you consider sponsoring another child in Guatemala? Maybe in honor of one of your children, a new grandchild, a special niece or nephew. It takes so little to make such a profound difference in the life of a child.
Andrew: Your sponsored child is a real kid with real dreams, just like the dreams of your children and grandchildren. We know because we met them. Kids that want to be doctors and lawyers and teachers, even musicians kinda like us. Your sponsorship gives these children their chance to achieve their very unique dreams.
Mark: You may not be able to change the whole world, but you can change the world for one child. Visit childfund.org/dinnerconversations to sponsor a child in Guatemala today. As a small way to say thanks for your child sponsorship, we will send you an autographed Season Two DVD and Songs From The Set CD.
Andrew: Yes, plus a special item made just for you by the communities in Guatemala.
Mark: And every sponsor and a guest is invited to a Dinner Conversations Friends & Family Weekend in Nashville.
Andrew: Hey now, which includes meal times with Mark and me, private little concerts and chitchats with our friends, and a special Sunday morning service that will happen right before you head out of town.
Mark: And if you sponsor more than one child, you will have the opportunity to be a guest on an actual episode of Dinner Conversations during the Friends & Family Weekend in Nashville.
Andrew: Does it get better than that?
Andrew: Does it, Mark? Does it? Stay tuned for exact details, and don’t forget to visit childfund.org/dinnerconversations to sponsor your child today.
Mark: To learn more about Dinner Conversations, visit dinner-conversations.com.
Andrew: And while you’re there, check out some of our friendly merch. We’ve got show mugs and Season One and Two DVDs. And we’ve got these little note cards so Mark can write me a note that says “You’re the best co-host ever.”
Mark: Oh yes. Well, you know, you get that after every episode. And what about this mug with our faces on it?
Andrew: What says good morning better?
Mark: It’s like we’re on both sides. Lefty or righty, you get to see us every morning.
Andrew: I think it’s time we give back to those guests.
Mark: Yeah, probably.
Mark: What do you wish you knew then? When you brought her home, what do you wish you could tell that Lisa? Like, okay, let me take you some shortcuts here.
Lisa: I would say say yes more than you say no. And you love her hard. Everything else will work out. The things I used to focus on– When I first brought Missy home, she stopped up the toilet in our house. Forgive me that we’re eating.
Mark: Well, we are eating.
Andrew: We are, yeah. Let’s clarify.
Lisa: So many times because she didn’t have a toilet in Haiti, much less toilet paper. So she was just just enchanted with toilet paper. And so every time she’d go potty, she’d literally use like half a roll. And I was like, I don’t want to scar her, and I want her to use the potty and not go outside. And so I’d be like, “Baby, just next time use a little–” I made up little songs. I did everything, I knew to do to get her to stop using toilet paper. Well, for the first couple of months, it was sweet, and then after that I was like, my floors are warping, and I’ve spent all the extra money we have on plumbers. And I thought, baby, you got to cool it with toilet paper. Well, I went in one night, and she was in my bathtub ’cause she feels like she can swim in my bathtub. It’s bigger than her. She was in my bathtub. She had bubble bath just up to her chin, just happy as a clam. And of course I think my girl’s gorgeous. She’s just a beautiful kid. And I walk in and she was like, “Hey, mama” in a little Creole accent. I’m like, “Hey, baby.” I walk past her, and there’s a little step down into where the commode is in my bathroom, and I step into water. Water’s up to my ankles. And of course the toilet is just exploding. And I was like, “Dadgummit.” And then I morphed into my mother. And I start fussing at her behind my back, and I was like, “Melissa Price Harper, I have told you.” And I just start fussing. Of course, she can’t see me and I can’t see her. She’s right around the corner in the bathtub. And I asked some rhetorical question like, “Why didn’t you tell me? I could have come in here.” And I just hear kind of this just little noise. It wasn’t an answer. And I turned around and see what she’s doing, and my precious kid is sitting up in that bathtub with tears streaming down her face. And I thought, I should be punched in the throat. And so I called my contractor, and I said, “Jack, you told me that there is a home application for those toilets they have on cruise ships.” You know, the toilet will suck your leg off. You press those on the cruise ship and it will suck down a Coke can.
Mark: Puts a hickey on your hiney.
Lisa: Yeah, and I said, “Didn’t you tell me that you put those in a hotel?” And he said, “Yeah.” And I said, “Could you get one of those for my bathroom?” And he was like, “Uh, yeah.” And he said, “Why?” And I said, “Because I don’t wanna ever fuss at my child again for using toilet paper because she didn’t have any growing up.” I wish I had done that more the first year. It doesn’t matter if the back of your car is messy. There’s science experiments in the back of my car now, and I was so fastidious as a single woman with a perfect car. Who gives a crap? If you don’t have people you love– Sorry, I said crap on your show.
Mark: But we were talking about the potty.
Lisa: But don’t let my mama hear it. She’ll have a cow.
Mark: Your mama?
Lisa: Oh my heavens. My mama, C-R-A-P will put you straight in H-E-and-the-double-hockey-sticks.
Mark: Wait, your mama is where?
Lisa: My mom is in Florida, and she’s very conservative and she has a platonic crush on you.
Mark: Well, tell me what kind of denomination.
Lisa: What do you think?
Mark: Is she Baptist?
Lisa: Of course.
Mark: She’s like my mother.
Lisa: She’s exactly like your mother.
Mark: Can she keep the law good?
Lisa: My mama now is Bapti-costal.
Andrew: Does she live in the villages?
Mark: Can she keep the law?
Mark: My mama could keep the law better than anybody.
Lisa: My mama can keep the law, but you know what? My mama has softened so much in her old age, and my mama loves my little girl. It has been the sweetest. Oh my heavens. Before Missy, I was in the process of adopting a little girl from a hardcore crack addict, and my mama would go over to the crack house and take that little pregnant girl. I mean, she’d walk right past the pimp and be like, “I’m here.” So yeah, she can keep the law, but–
Mark: When do I get to meet her?
Lisa: My mama loves–
Mark: I love that. How old is she?
Lisa: She just turned 80 last year, walks six miles a day.
Mark: Well, my dad’s 85. Maybe we could get them–
Lisa: Hey, I’m all– Let’s go. I’ve always felt kindred. I will tell you that my mother, through the adoption process, I wasn’t sure she could handle it because she’s very, like Beverly, kinda everything’s buttoned up, everything kind of–
Andrew: A little rigid.
Lisa: Well, everything just happens within these parameters.
Mark: Yeah, that’s all they knew.
Lisa: And she was really unsure, not in a shaming way, but just really unsure if I should adopt a kid with problems. And so when I told her I was gonna adopt or I was in the process of trying to adopt this little girl who was a prostitute and a hardcore crack addict, her unborn baby, she didn’t know who the daddy is. It was one of her Johns. My mom was just like, “I think that–” It was kind of like, if you’re gonna adopt, there are healthy children too. And I said, “Mama, because I’m not married, I don’t wanna take a child who has a shot at a mom and a daddy.” Totally my opinion. But my opinion is that’s God’s best to have two loving parents with a kid. And I said, “So I would rather put myself in the position where I would be adopting a child who does have a shot at a mom and a daddy.” And so after really kind of wrestling with that, she was like, “I’m behind you.” And this adoption attempt, the mother lived in Florida not too far from my mama. And my mom would go to that crack house a couple of times a week with groceries and she would– My mom’s little. I got daddy’s genes. My mom’s real petite. She would push past scary looking pimps and be like, “I’m here to bring groceries.” She would just walk right in with her little Baptist self. And she would love on that little mama-to-be. And I saw a grace in my mom that I realized I just, in my foolishness, didn’t know was in there. And to see my mama, my mom’s real modest. And Missy is basically a nudist. And so, fortunately we live out in the country so we don’t scar anybody but the UPS man. But anyway, mama was at the house a few weeks ago. I fly her up every couple of months just so Missy will know her. And she was staying with us for a couple of weeks, and she was in– I had a bathtub put in the guest room for my mama with little rails. I told her, “Mama, those are not handicap rails. That’s just– I need them too ’cause I’ve got a big rearend to get in there.”
Andrew: It’s luxury.
Lisa: Luxurious. Well anyway, she loves to take baths. So I could hear my mom getting the bath going, and I have these little special bath salts in there. Well, there’s just barn doors to that guest suite, and before I can react, Missy with her little naked self has just opened those doors and walked right in, and I can hear her climbing into the bathtub with my mama. I’m 54. I’ve never seen my mother naked. Not that I’ve wanted to. You know, we’re just a modest family. And I can hear Missy, and she’s like, “Hey, Ani.” She calls her Ani for honey. “Hey, Ani.” And you can hear my mother going, “Oh, oh.” I can hear her voice is so high only dogs can hear it because she’s so taken aback that my little pumpkin is getting in the bathtub with her. And I got so tickled, and after a few minutes, I thought I need to go rescue my mama. I thought hopefully it’s a bubble bath, and I don’t need to see anymore than I’m seeing. But I walk around, and my Missy is sitting opposite my mama, bubbles everywhere, and just laughing, telling her stories. And my mama is laughing with this peanut from Haiti. And I thought that right there is just amazing grace and redemption in our home. But it happens over and over again. And I do think kids dismantle some of the– Some of the, well, certainly the religiosity. But you also see that they just take God at his word. She’s like, this is my grandma. My grandma’s gonna love me ’cause that’s what family does. She just believes the best in people, and then oftentimes it brings the best out of people.
“She just believes the best in people, and then oftentimes it brings the best out of people.” – Lisa Harper
Andrew: Yeah. Well, and it puts skin on story. All we need, and Mark says this all the time, you put a face on it, you can’t hate it. And so I think that’s one of the most unique things about international adoption is bringing in these different colors, these different backgrounds, these different stories into our own stories, and us realizing that there’s just no difference. I mean, everyone could take a bath together.
Mark: See, he always– All right, let me show you. Andrew, let me show you. Here is the line. Now we pole vault– I’ve been known to pole vault over the line but not while the cameras are rolling.
Lisa: Yeah, that’s gonna be an outtake.
Andrew: The innocence of the child.
Lisa: It’s just beautiful.
Andrew: How has that change– the exercise of you? A couple things I’ve heard you talk about of how you have changed through your– how you’ve been transformed through the way that you care for and love Missy, right? Has that changed the way you speak to other people? The way you interact with other people?
Lisa: Absolutely. I think for so many years I was not only scared, I was really afraid of being abandoned. Now I didn’t look like that. I wasn’t your stereotypical wallflower ’cause I’m an extrovert. I love people. I love words. So I didn’t look like I was oppressed by shame. I faked it very, very well. But God had lifted so much of that off me, and then by the time I got to be her mom, I feel like I’m the rose blooming out of cement. Even though I see it in her, I feel like it’s happened in me too. And there’s a softness that I didn’t have before Missy because I’m not afraid of my heart being hurt anymore. I would rather it be hurt than it be hard. And so I can spot a self-protective woman a mile away because I wore that for decades. And I feel much more tender toward women. I was with some women– I love working with women who are in recovery. I grew up Baptist. Well, daddy was Assembly of God, so I was Bapti-costal. So I never struggled with drug or alcohol abuse. I didn’t drink anything other than NyQuil for decades because I thought I’d go to the hot place. But I consider myself a recovering addict because– Have you ever read any of Dr. Ed Welch? Love his stuff. And he says in his book Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave that all addictions are ultimately a disorder of worship. And so in other words, if you don’t run to Jesus, then you’re gonna stuff the wrong things and the wrong people into the biggest hole in your soul. And so I love being with women in recovery ministry, and I totally identify with that. I just didn’t lose my teeth to meth, but I was behind bars for a long time. And just used different things to medicate. The people that I would have judged 20 years ago, now I totally see myself in. So it’s changed everything for me. I see the father heart of God is so much more accessible, and really his image in other people is so obvious to me now. Whereas before I could just be a real toot. I might use Christian language, but I didn’t have the compassion he’s called us to have. And so I think at some level, all of us identify as orphans. I did more than my daughter. And seeing the redemption there has just– It’s that whole he sets the lonely in homes. So I think I’m much more aware of lonely people who are in my midst, and I wanna move toward them and love them for the sake of Christ and the glory of the Gospel, whereas before I might have distanced myself from a lonely person ’cause that would get me too in touch with my own loneliness or fears.
Mark: What helped me not– Of course, once again, I drag myself into the conversation.
Lisa: But I like it.
Mark: I’m so used to everything being about me. That’s all. When I started looking at people as here comes the image of God on legs. And I told myself that. This isn’t a fan. This is the image of God on legs. It changed everything. It’s how you see them.
Lisa: One of my favorite quotes, and I’m not a big quoter ’cause I usually misquote people.
Andrew: Oh, I love quotes.
Lisa: I love quotes, but I’m always– I said to someone the other day from Frederick Buechner, and I said, “And this is posthumous. He’s dead.” Somebody sent me message and said he’s actually alive and well in New York City. I was like, I’m so sorry. Sorry, Mr. Buechner. But anyway, Lesslie Newbigin said that community is that most effective hermeneutic of the Gospel. The way we see Jesus through the lens of each other is the most effective way to actually understand who Jesus is. And so yeah, Missy has done that for me more than any relationship.
“The way we see Jesus through the lens of each other is the most effective way to actually understand who Jesus is.” – Lisa Harper
Mark: I’m curious how many little Missys are out there that have found adoption because somebody heard Missy’s story?
Andrew: That’s gonna be impactful.
Lisa: I can’t quantify it, but I will tell you almost every time– We’re on the road a lot, and Missy is in a hybrid– She’s in a hybrid private homeschool situation. So she goes on the road with me about 90%, if not 95%, of the time. She travels with me every Friday and has for the last three and a half years. And it has been incredible how many people come up. I was just in Peoria, Illinois, of all places, and several women in line came up. And I know who they are ’cause they’ll be holding their phones or a picture. I mean, just grinning like a banshee. Come up and they go, “This is my–” And they show me their child who they’ve just adopted domestically, internationally. And then of course they wanna hug all over Missy, and Missy has good boundaries ’cause she’s probably not gonna need as much therapy as me. Although, I take her to my counselor ’cause I don’t have that much childcare. And I make Missy put on earphones with her iPad, and I’ll be talking to my counselor and Missy will go, “Nuh-uh, mama.” I’m like, “Turn the audio up. I need to talk to my counselor.” And she laughs. She calls Lynn my heart doctor. And I said, “Baby, the more I go to my heart doctor, the less you’ll need to go to one.” Save mama some money. But anyway, Missy, they’ll wanna hug all over her ’cause they see her as the genesis of their own story. But I don’t want her to be anybody’s catalyst. I want her to live her own story with Jesus. And if the fruit of that story is other people being adopted, hallelujah to the glory of God. I hope she’s mostly innocent of that. I want God to be the hero of her story. I don’t want her to carry the baggage of I’ve got to be the hero of anybody else’s story. But yeah, lots. We get lots.
Andrew: But you’ll help or do that. If she feels safe–
Lisa: I tell her all the time the things in her that I love ’cause I really am– The affection I feel for her sometimes I almost feel like I need rib expanders. I literally feel like she has changed the topography of my heart and the size of my heart. And again, getting back to Jesus. To know that is a drop in the bucket of the way he loves us. That slays me ’cause I did not think of myself as delighted in. I knew he saved me when I was a kid, but I thought he saved me because he felt sorry for me. I couldn’t begin to imagine God dancing over me or grinning. I will grin sometimes over her so big my cheeks will start to cramp ’cause I just think she’s amazing. We just did this. Well, she did. A hip hop class, and I thought. We’re gonna slay this one. Because all these little pale kids in Williamson County and Missy. I was like, sorry, we’re gonna rock this class. She was the worst kid. Terrible, just terrible. No, she has great rhythm unlike her mama, but she does not like to follow exactly what the instructor said. So she just made up her own riffs and stuff. But what was hilarious is these other little kids, they were very serious at the recital, doing exactly what was expected of them as young hip-hop artists. Missy would do all this wild stuff that they didn’t even tell them to do, and then she’d look at me about every five seconds like– And I’d do like– We’re like the biggest goobers. We’re both so proud.
“I knew he saved me when I was a kid, but I thought he saved me because he felt sorry for me. I couldn’t begin to imagine God dancing over me or grinning.” – Lisa Harper
Mark: Do you think you’ll have any more or adopt any more?
Lisa: I would love– Every time I go to Haiti, and we’re going to Haiti for Easter, it is hard for me not to commit to another kid. The reality– I don’t want my emotions to outrun the will of God. The reality of being a single mom who travels 160 days a year with a child who has HIV and some medical needs, it’s a lot. I’m keeping my head above water by the grace of God, but it’s just a lot. If I’m married, I would adopt 50 kids and have a school bus, of older kids who usually will age out of the adoption program. I don’t know. I can’t say no. Thank you, Daddy Mark. So anyway, I didn’t really answer your question. I would love to have a whole mess of kids. If I don’t, Missy is more than I dreamt of. Yeah, so I don’t know. I just can’t say no. And so I could see myself as a really old mama to kids.
Mark: But you do have to think about in 20 years–
Lisa: Yeah, I’ma be– 20 years I’ll not even know what’s going on, so I would be completely oblivious to it.
Mark: Where was I 20 years ago? It seems like last week.
Lisa: Mm-hmm. Isn’t that crazy?
Mark: Isn’t that weird?
Lisa: And I still feel like– I love my heart, where it is now ’cause it’s kind of The Velveteen Rabbit thing, or the Skin Horse and The Velveteen Rabbit. If I could go back to my 20-year-old self and go, oh baby, major in the majors ’cause the stuff you are so preoccupied with now is not gonna matter. But you can’t know that without life experience. You can’t have the bumps and bruises on your heart that proves– I think there’s so much sanctity in scars. I used to think I wanna hide my scars. Now I’m like, look at this one. Let me tell you what Jesus did here. Look at this one. Let me tell you what Jesus did here. But so I think probably at 74, 20 years from now, I’m just gonna be even more content. I’ll have less of a metabolism and my hair will still be chemically dependent. But I’ll just be like, let me tell you the stories. Let me tell you what Jesus has done for our family, whether that’s me and Missy and her going, “I know, mama. I know.” Or me and Missy and three or four others.
“I think there’s so much sanctity in scars.” – Lisa Harper
Andrew: But you telling your story, she will tell her story. She’s seeing that by example.
Lisa: She will be 28. Well, okay, when you said that, I have to tell you one of the things but it was the coolest thing. We got to go to D.C. lately. And I always wanna say got to go ’cause I always wanna have reverence for America no matter who’s in office. So I will keep saying we got to go to Washington, D.C. It’s not always my favorite place to go, but we got to go there to testify to several different senators on behalf of food shortage, global malnutrition and food scarcity. And so I had memorized all these bills and stuff, or tried to, so I wouldn’t sound like such a redneck in these meetings ’cause I thought I just want to be able to name the bill that we’re fighting for and what we wanna encourage our congressmen and senators to do. But they asked me if I’d bring Missy because it always helps to put a face. Well, so our first meeting we’re in the lowest of the lowest of the low on the senators’ feeding chain because nobody wants to talk with people who are coming in and talking about food scarcity. So we were with some junior junior staff person. And you can tell they’re looking at their watch, rolling their eyes, and I’m trying to keep it brief, which is not my gift. I’m a windbag. I’m in the room with four other people. Well, then I turned to Missy, and she’s just sitting at the table in her cute little outfit, and I said, “Honey, do you have something to say?” And she said, “Yes, ma’am.” And she looks right at this senatorial staff person. She said, “Yes, ma’am. When I was a little kid in Haiti, I was very hungry, and no little kid should ever have to be hungry.” And that staff person, who had literally rolled her eyes 30 seconds before, just tears sprang to eyes. I was like, yeah, what she said. But she went all over Capitol Hill. She was doing flips all the way down the Senate chambers, and it was hilarious ’cause there’s all these men, all these power brokers, and they would literally stop in mid conversation like, who is the little child doing flips? And I just didn’t stop her. I thought, you know what? There’s plenty of room in this hall. And I thought, I’m not gonna tell my kid to behave. She’s being a joyful 8-year-old, and we need to have more joy in this place. We ended up having all these congressmen, several senators stop us, and they’d say, “Honey, what’s your name?” She’d say, “I’m Missy Harper, and I’m from Tennessee.” And you can tell they’re like– She’s got a Creole accent, kind of Southern by way of Haiti. And they’d say, “Why are you here, honey?” And she’d go, “So other little kids don’t have to be hungry. I was real hungry when I was little in Haiti.” And that’s all she said, and they’d just be like, and I’d be like, “Bye bye, sir. Bye bye, ma’am.” I just followed her around because our stories matter. They carry weight. And so yeah, I want her to always tell her story. So her story’s helped me tell more of my story.
Mark: Oh yeah. I think that was good.
Andrew: I love it, yeah.
Mark: Oh, we wanna thank Lisa Harper.
Andrew: Yeah, and her daughter, Missy.
Andrew: Yeah, so great. You can check out Lisa’s books in our Amazon affiliate link in episode description below.
Mark: And if you wanna binge watch Dinner Conversations, you could do that right now on Amazon Prime. Dinner Conversations is brought to you by ChildFund, a community development organization that has been envisioning a world where every child is free to live at their fullest potential no matter where they’re from or what challenges they face since 1938.
Andrew: Partner with us and our good friends at ChildFund to change the world and the life of a child by considering sponsoring a child today.
Mark: It really does take so little to make a difference.
Andrew: Visit childfund.org/dinnerconversations.
Mark: A child is waiting.
ChildFund is a community development organization that has been envisioning a world where every child is free to live at their fullest potent no matter where they are from — or what challenges they face — since 1938.
Partner with us and our good friends at ChildFund to change the world in the life of a child by considering sponsoring a child today. It takes so little to make a difference. A child is waiting. And remember, every one who sponsors a child is invited to a Dinner Conversations Friends & Family Weekend in Nashville, plus receives an autographed Season Two DVD, CD and a special item handmade for you by our communities in Guatemala.
Learn more here: childfund.org/dinnerconversations.
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Watch Our Other Episodes:
S02, E01: A Change of Mind featuring Danny Gokey and Dr. Caroline Leaf
S02, E02: The Last Goodbye featuring Amy Grant
S02, E03: The Humanity of Billy & Ruth Graham featuring Will Graham and Gigi Graham
S02, E04: Life After Divorce featuring Crystal Lewis
S02, E05: Place in this World featuring Michael W. Smith and Ginny Owens
S02, E06: God Is In The Details featuring Kathie Lee Gifford and Rabbi Jason Sobel
S02, E07: Winning Takes Work featuring Scott Hamilton and Paula Trujillo
S02, E08: Mind Matters featuring Dr. Caroline Leaf
S02, E09: The Thin Line Between Priest and Prophet featuring Becca Stevens and Russ Taff
S02, E10: The Color of Love featuring Seth & Nirva and Montell Jordan
S02, E11: Diversity Living Together featuring Montell Jordan
S02, E12: Like A Child featuring Randall Goodgame