I clung to the steering wheel as if it was a floatation device and I was drowning. It seemed fitting. I felt like I was drowning. There I sat in the parking lot of the grocery store. Mothers with babies on their hips casually walking past my parked car to go pick up milk and eggs. Women shooting off one last text before finishing their errands. And, I sat there, crying wondering if we had made a very big mistake.
A few days earlier, we had been sent her file. She was beautiful. After over two years of walking down the adoption process path, we thought this could be it. We thought that this was the moment we had been waiting for. We had sat down together before an alphabetical list of words months before that day. We looked at a handful of words we couldn’t pronounce and debated over which of those words were scary and which were not-so-scary for us. None of them were without implications; we knew that. But, it almost seemed like the scariest part wasn’t the words and their implications but the actual box checking.
Months later, we saw her. Our social worker had locked her file for us and sent it via email with an intentionally warm but short, neutral message every family gets to the effect of: Look her file over. Show your doctor. Let us know if you have questions. You have a limited time to respond. And so, it began. I did what I knew to do. We poured over her file, studied her pictures, charted her measurements, read about where she was living, consulted experts, and prayed. Is this girl with silky dark hair pulled back from her face and large dark eyes our daughter?
We said yes. The time was running out on our deadline, and there was no reason to say no. The labels attached to her were diagnoses we had checked “yes” to on that list. And, as we did all that we had planned to do when that referral came, there were no big surprises. We showed her picture to our children and told our families all about her.
But, something wasn’t quite right.
Can we get another update? Can they send us video? Can we ask her foster family a few questions? Let’s get one more doctor to weigh in.
I had never done this before. I blamed it on nerves. I blamed it on my own fear of the unknown. Surely this was the biggest leap of faith I’d ever taken. But, this wasn’t what I had imagined. I found myself looking at the pictures of a beautiful girl and looking for something hidden. I read her files over and over looking for red flags. The confirmation I had prayed for wasn’t coming; the only thing coming was increased anxiety and panic.
I wanted to say yes. I felt I had to say yes. Why wouldn’t we say yes? But, why did I find myself in the dark place of looking for a reason to say no?
I fell apart in the car that day, afraid that I wasn’t only wrong about this little girl on the other side of the world who simply needed a family but that I was wrong about much, much more. If I couldn’t say yes to her, if I couldn’t move forward in being her mother, maybe I was wrong about saying yes to adoption entirely, wrong about my own motherhood, wrong about my own heart, about everything. I could barely catch my breath. How did I get to this place?
He met me there. In the tears. In the chaos. In my conversations with my husband and with our social worker and with our children. He spoke to me and took my hand.
I was right where I was supposed to be, broken and poured out, wrestling to understand Him, His will, and my role in it. It was not my job to “save her,” so very much not my job. His plan for her did not ultimately depend on me. A checked box on a 2-dimensional list did not mean that we were required to move forward to make any multidimensional child our child. Those checked boxes simply helped prepare us as adoptive parents and helped our social worker in her difficult job. That’s all. People cannot be reduced to checkboxes. I could not fear any the opinions of others that may have come. No explanation was required.
It’s okay to say no.
She had arrived into my inbox and my heart like a little butterfly, gently fluttering by and landing for a moment only to flutter again to another heart where she’d safely stay for good. While she was here, God taught me more about who He is and who I am than I could have imagined. I fell apart right into His arms where He let me know that she wasn’t mine.
It was those same arms that took my hand and guided me to keep going and ultimately handed me the little one was very much my daughter only 6 months later. There was still anxiety, doubt, and fear at times. But, everything was different. Somehow in the midst of all of that, there was a peace and assurance, the confirmation that I needed that told me I couldn’t say no. My heart and spirit wouldn’t let me. I had to press on; she was our daughter.