I’m writing this to my fellow Jesus-followers who are adopting. I understand and respect that might not apply to everyone, but I have to take a moment to speak to those of you who share my fundamental faith.
“Faith never knows where it is being led, but it loves and knows the One who is leading.” – Oswald Chambers
So much about adoption puts decisions that would normally be left in God’s hands into ours. We suddenly get choices about something that in the “natural” way one becomes a parent, we have no choice about. What age? What gender? What special needs can you comfortably parent? In many ways, it puts us control-hungry humans into a god-like position… setting parameters and criteria and boundaries about the sort of things that maybe never were supposed to be for us to decide. And then once you make it through the process with all these choices and get to China, so often you are handed a child who is nothing like what you expect. He is too frail, too detached, too thin, too floppy, too scared, too angry… quite simply, too much. And you’re told you have 24 hours to decide if he will be your son; if she will be your daughter.
Another choice. Frankly, all the preparation you did with your social worker and agency, all the articles you read, and all the things you thought you’d think and feel in that moment go out the window. Instead, face-to-face with the ugly reality of what institutionalization and deprivation does to a child, you are confronted with the terrifying decision about whether or not you will willingly walk into a commitment that quite possibly will wreck your world.
The girls and I spent the morning at the park with a friend and her little boy. She’d hold his walker in one hand and sling him over her hip, his leg braces knocking against her legs, as we moved from one section of the park to another. She cheerfully encouraged him to push his walker up a ramp and propped his body against a swing so he could lean back and forth; when he fell, she told him to try again, never letting his disabilities give him an easy out. When her beautiful little boy was born with spina bifida, my friend didn’t get to review his file or have a heart-to-heart conversation with her husband about whether or not it would be too much for them to manage. With his birth, she was thrust into this new world of being a mama to a bright and vibrant little boy with a serious special need… thrust into the world of becoming his medical expert, chief advocate, and constant-preparer-of-special-diet due to his severe and extensive food allergies.
My friend is a beautiful and capable mom, and while I’ve never asked her if before he arrived she felt prepared to be a mama to a little guy with a slew of challenging needs, I’m quite certain she’d say no. After all, she’s human. She wasn’t a super woman who went into motherhood extra-equipped for hard things. I don’t believe God chose her to be this little guy’s mom because she had some super-human abilities to walk through the hard days with more grit and determination than the rest of us. Instead I believe she was made strong and capable simply because she put her head down and started walking, following the lead of the Father she knows she can trust. She put herself second and her little boy first, and started walking it out… stumbling at times I’m sure. But what I see when I look at her is a woman of uncommon strength and grace and tenderness, walking her journey out with a beauty that defies description.
Many of you who read this blog are waiting to travel to pick up your little one. Some of you have done this 5 times before and some of you have never left your state. Some of you will arrive at the day you will meet your child, and you will be shocked at how smoothly everything goes. Most of you will not. If you’re like most of us, you’ll have some moments in that first day when you simply think, “This is too much for me.”
And you’ll be absolutely right. It is too much for any of us. We are not super-human, uber-equipped experts. We are frail and fragile people, acutely aware of our own inadequacies and weaknesses.
But the other thing we have in common is this deep and quiet peace that comes when the Father makes clear to us that “this is the way, walk in it.” And so we all set out, whispering a terrified yes. We start the journey, stumbling and tripping and with more fear and trembling than I can describe…
But the journey makes us strong. The stones we trip on and the boulders we struggle to climb — they do stub our toes and scrape our legs. But these are the very things that are stripping away the parts of us that must be stripped away if we want to be the people God calls us to be. That beautiful mix of tender strength and grace I see in my friend? The same one I see in so many adoptive mamas who are a few years ahead of me on this journey? The same thing you might see in me? The same thing you fear isn’t in you? Friends, that comes from the struggle. It doesn’t precede the struggle.
We are flesh and blood people who know that we are never enough on our own, yet with the Father in the lead, we have everything we need. You have everything you need because you’re following Jesus. It’s OK to walk scared. Saying yes might cost you everything… and there’s no way any one of us can promise you that it will all be OK someday. We aren’t going to say that “love is all you need” and that everything is going to turn out fine. It might not. And you’ll know the reality and brutal truth of that possibility more deeply than you can imagine when you are in the quiet space of a Chinese hotel room with nothing and no one in front of you but this love-hungry, terrified shell of a child and the world-shattering question of what you will do.
I do not pretend to know what the right answer is for everyone in that moment. To be honest, it is between you and God. But friends, may we never be motivated by our fear or by our comfort. May we listen for His voice telling us “this is the way, walk in it,” and may we always be willing to step into line behind the Father who is leading — trusting that though His way will rarely lead us into self-preservation, He is good and He loves us. When Jesus invited people to follow him, he said no less:
Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for? – Mark 8:34-37, The Message
– image by Tish Goff