“When you go back…”
In the weeks before we left for China for our first adoption, Anne and I met with some family friends who had adopted three Chinese daughters. The goal of our time with Kevin and Vicki was to better understand what to expect on the trip and in the months to follow.
It was a really helpful visit that covered everything from haggling with street vendors to treatment options for scabies, but what stands out most from our time together that night is one off-handed comment from Kevin that started with, “When you go back to China for your second adoption…”
I quickly corrected his misstatement, reminding him that this was a one-time deal for us. We were only planning one adoption… ever. That was all we had to give.
His response still rings in my ears after more than a decade, “I had the exact same plan until the moment I walked into an orphanage, and then everything changed for me. After seeing what I saw that day, I knew I would go back. After that, nothing was ever the same.”
Several weeks later, I stood in the doorway of an orphanage in FengCheng City. Although I would not admit it to myself or anyone else until much later, I knew at that moment that Kevin was right. I knew I would come back. I also knew that I would never be the same.
Over the next 8 years, we returned to China twice and brought home three more children. For most of the last decade, Chinese orphans and adoption have been the dominant storyline in our lives, and that is why I am struggling so much with what I am about to say:
At least for now, I think we’re done.
“I think we’re done”
The collective sigh of relief you hear right now is from our family, friends, and financial advisors.
As we have started to share this decision, we have received almost universal praise and support. We have been told that we are being wise; college is expensive and we aren’t getting any younger. We have been reminded about the importance of the six we already have (as if we forgot). We have been encouraged to think about new ministry areas to consider, from church committees to bible studies. We have been counseled that we can’t adopt all of the orphans in China.
Some of these are valid arguments from people who deeply care about us, but there is one fundamental problem: The arguments against a fifth adoption/seventh child are identical to the arguments I made against the first one.
I shudder to think about our life today if my “rational” arguments had won out in any of the previous seasons where we debated this question. As long and compelling as the list of arguments against adoption were, they are dwarfed by the short list of arguments on the other side of the ledger – Mia, Will, Ellie, and Sam.
Because I have seen the inside of an orphanage and have held children just as deserving of a family as the four we brought home, I struggle with the idea of being done. I struggle to believe that any sacrifice of my comforts should outweigh the desperate needs of those children. I struggle to believe that God loves me and my kids more than them… especially in light of a gospel that seems to say the opposite.
To cite the oft quoted David Platt and his articulation of what Kevin expressed to us on that couch 10 years ago, “Orphans are easier to ignore before you know their names. They are easier to ignore before you see their faces. It is easier to pretend they’re not real before you hold them in your arms. But once you do, everything changes…”
Adoption as a Selfish Act
While the above arguments are the more selfless articulations for adoption, I should be honest about some of the selfish ones.
Beyond the extraordinary blessing of four new family members, adoption has been the catalyst for most of my deepest connections with God over the last decade… and, frankly, in my life. Adoption has created a space where we needed the God of the universe to show up… and He has.
Some of the very few times I have audibly heard from God were about adoption. The only time I’ve ever been short on money in my life has been during an adoption journey, and that is also the only time I’ve had the mind-blowing and faith-multiplying experience of finding large amounts of anonymously-given money in my mailbox. He has spoken to us, provided for us, revealed his heart to us, unified us, provided real-deal miracles… all in adoption journeys… all because adoption allowed us to experience our need for him and provided such a sweet platform from which He could display His God-ness.
I have never felt more alive in Christ than when we are in the middle of an adoption journey. I have never felt the tension of fear and rising faith like I feel when standing outside of the door where I will meet my new children for the first time. I have never experienced greater community with the body of Christ than waking up in China to read encouraging messages from friends and family members praying for us from thousands of miles away. I have literally been asked about the God I serve because of the Chinese kid holding my hand at Target or the picture of my family on my computer desktop. My friendship with Jesus and the privilege to share about it have been multiplied because we said yes.
And our marriage. I’m not sure there is a more intimate connection than kneeling on filthy concrete together, trying to communicate with smiles, snacks, and a limited set of poorly annunciated Chinese phrases to a stunned, urine-soaked orphan that the strangest people they have ever met are somehow going to be their family. As strange as it may sound from the outside, we’ve never experienced sweeter oneness.
So make no mistake… the decision to adopt again would be far from a purely magnanimous or sacrificial decision. In some ways, there are as many selfish motivations in choosing to adopt as there are in choosing not to.
Same Question, Surprising New Answer
And so, we have gone to God with the question. Are we supposed to adopt again?
Having approached him with this same question in the past, the answer has always been clear and has always been affirmative. It’s felt as if He has been waiting for us to form the question, for the seeds of adoption to germinate in our hearts. All of our previous experiences created an expectation of the response we would receive this time.
But much to our surprise, there is no quick “Yes” at the end of our prayers lately. Instead, we are surprised to be experiencing some silence and some sense that the answer may, in fact, be “No.” Or “Not now.”
And with this has come the appropriately humbling realization that we are not in charge. We have come to learn that we must be as obedient in “no” as we learned to be in “yes”… expectant that he will be as glorified in the former as he has been in the latter. If we aspire to do Kingdom work, then we have to be willing to listen to the King.
The Fear of Forgetting
As we start to get comfortable with this new direction, we begin to realize how our role in the Kingdom can shift without diminishing.
We do have a calling in our own home to disciple the six people whom God has entrusted to us. We do have a calling in our schools and in our neighborhood and in my office to bring the light of Christ to people who are lost… people who may actually be harder for God to reach than those orphans, because suburban comfort can mask our need for a Savior. Like Christ said, “It is hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
But the idea of “suburban ministry” is scary for us… because again, the line between calling and comfort gets blurry in this part of the world. This place lacks the urgency and immediacy and intimacy I always sense so crisply on the steps outside of a Chinese orphanage.
If we do not travel this road again, that will be one of the elements of adoption that I will miss the most. Adoption provided a consistent reminder that our 1% bubble is not the real world. Adoption brought us face-to-face with the poor and the Fatherless and the marginalized. It reminded us how much God loves these people and how often he warns the rest of us not to take any comfort in our comfort. These are truths we don’t hear as clearly over the background music in the local Gap or Starbuck’s.
If he asks, say yes.
For the 3 of you who have made it this far (Hi, Mom!), thanks for indulging me with this exercise of self-discovery… this attempt to crystallize some feelings with which Anne and I have been wrestling for the last few months.
One of my fears in writing this is that our decision not to adopt might add discouragement to someone else. I would hate if my articulation of our non-calling had a negative impact on yours… because if anything, we are jealous of those that are currently sensing a call to the high privilege of adoption… whether it is for the first time or the fourth time.
So if you feel at all led to pursue adoption, DO IT! Don’t miss this! Do it because the grainy photos of stone-faced orphans turn out to be funny, beautiful, brilliant, irreplaceable children of God who have lost everything and who need you so very badly. Do it because watching the God of the Universe redeem a lost life is the stuff of miracles; I’m not sure I’ll ever stand on a higher mountain. Cut whatever nonsense you have to out of your life so that you can say yes to this.
And if they ask if you want to visit the orphanage, say yes. Say yes… knowing that this decision has consequences. Knowing that if you do, you’ll probably go back… maybe more than once.
Knowing that if you do, you will see things that you can never forget and that you will never be the same.
I hope I never do. I hope I never am.
Because if He does decide to call again, I want to make sure I already know the answer.