When Beth Nonte Russell was asked to accompany a friend to pick up the baby girl she was adopting from China, she expected it to be an adventure. An avid traveler, Russell had never been to China, and she welcomed this chance to help a friend while discovering a new country.
But when the friend is presented with a frail baby who seems developmentally far behind her age, she balks at going through with the adoption. Russell finds herself responding in a way that will change her life forever: she agrees to take the girl herself once back in the U.S. Forever Lily: An Unexpected Mother’s Journey to Adoption in China is the memoir Russell has written about her experience.
Russell masterfully tells the story of her journey, which included other soon-to-be adoptive parents who had all planned for a long time to bring a new baby into their lives. Russell weaves tales of the groups’ sightseeing excursions to famous landmarks along with heartbreaking images of the babies’ orphanage when the group visits. She shares her conflicting thoughts of China, whose society is vibrant and modern, but also ancient and repressed.
An undercurrent of the story is Russell’s vivid dreams, some of which started before her trip began and lead her to believe she may have a stronger connection to China than she ever would have imagined.
While Russell’s decision to take the baby is clearly heroic, she doesn’t make herself out to be an unblemished hero, which makes her seem more human. She freely shares that her relationship with her stepchildren was reserved, and that she didn’t open herself up to love and the possibility of being hurt in the past. As she struggles emotionally to accept what she knows she must do, she shares with the reader her personal spiritual beliefs and her journey to get to those beliefs.
Forever Lily is a fascinating story that engrosses to the end, and it will have readers asking themselves, “What would I do if something extraordinary was asked of me?” While it’s most appropriate for moms, who will more easily relate to Russell’s story, older girls will find something of interest here too. Russell also makes book club discussion easy with a list of discussion questions and an interview featured in the back of the book along with a list of activities the group can consider.
Also a testament to the profound way Russell’s life was changed by her experience is the fact that she has started a new non-profit organization called The Golden Phoenix Foundation. Here’s a description of the foundation from the website:
“Motivated by the plight of orphaned children in China and elsewhere, Beth and Randy Russell founded the Golden Phoenix Foundation in 2006.
The mission of the Golden Phoenix Foundation is to end child abandonment worldwide. The Foundation supports existing initiatives, helps develop research projects and plans for future direct initiatives to help better the quality of life of children without families throughout the world.”
Russell hopes to raise funds for her foundation through product sales on the website, Good True Beautiful, which sells her book, an eau de parfum called Forever Lily, t-shirts and a tote baag.