Finish high school.
Graduate from college.
Get a job.
Have a couple kids.
Maybe even adopt one.
Send them all to college.
Celebrate their weddings.
Spoil the grandkids.
That’s the plan.
Well… that was the plan.
When I was getting ready to finish high school, I realized I had no idea what it meant to plan for the future. At that point in life, I’d never stuck with anything longer than four years other than my relationship with Jesus. I wasn’t confident I could make it to adulthood much less make it down my list of life goals.
Over time, and through a long valley of heartaches, I emerged into the grown-up world of jobs, family, mortgage, cars, bills, etc. Together, my wife and I started working down this list.
About five years in, we’d realized we’d made it about halfway through it, checking off boxes pretty as you please. Life was under our command. We did what we wanted. Went where we wanted. Ate what we wanted. Life was just exactly what we wanted. Everything was happening just as we’d scripted. Which meant it was time to start the next chapter…
We had a certain storyline in mind. We thought we’d probably learn about a mom in our town who was at a crossroads. She would choose us as parents and off we’d go, checking off boxes down the list. But at some point in the process someone asked us, “What special needs are you willing to consider?” That question stalled us. We wanted to put our name on a list of prospective parents, but we needed to answer the question. “Special needs? I’m not sure we’re cut out for that,” we thought. “This feels too risky. What if the child has lifelong needs? Are we prepared for that?”
It felt overwhelming. I couldn’t answer. I knew the answer. I just didn’t want to say it out loud. Saying it out loud would make it official and I wasn’t ready to make it official. Our lives change when we make things official.
But life was good. Smooth. Manageable. Predictable. Everything fit together neatly. Special needs weren’t on our list. And yet here we were; ready to launch into the adoption process, hesitant to say yes to the potential of adopting a child with special needs.
Years went by as we slowly answered the question, revisiting the intake questionnaire and checking the “easier” boxes until one day we learned about a situation involving an unborn child with Down syndrome whose chance at life hung in the balance of a decision. Our hearts were ignited. We knew we needed to put ourselves out there for this child, whether the birth family chose us or not. Ultimately, they chose another couple. But this catalyst propelled us fully into the world of special needs adoptions with the realization that our perfect checklist, which was supposed to craft our perfect life, had just been irreparably altered.
Weeks later we fell in love with a little girl with Down syndrome from China, and began a process very different from the one we’d imagined. I remember the fear. I remember the hesitation. I remember trying to ignore God because I knew what he wanted from us; for our family. And it was terrifying.
Sure, we wanted to say yes. We wanted to obey God. We wanted to be able to trust fully. But these things are heavy, and big, and for life. And while it was exciting, it was a little heartbreaking, too. All the things up to that point we’d thought we wanted, now were fading.
Were we really willing to say goodbye to the rest of our list?
Would this child be able to go to college?
What if she can’t ever live independently?
Will she get married?
Will she be able to hold a job?
Our perfect list was being redefined in front of our eyes. And all the pre-packaged comfort statements were impotent. It started to not matter anymore, whether we finished checking off the list. There was a girl and she belonged in our family. Yes, the diagnosis was scary. The unknown medical issues were more than we could process at first. But she was our daughter and she needed our love.
And when you have a child who has needs, be they typical or special, you do what you must to meet them. Even if doing so means driving your dreams off a cliff into the deep blue sea.
We came to realize, if family is for life, caring for your family is as well. Her needs were our needs.
A couple years after being home from our first adoption, we opened ourselves up to adopting again. This time a mother in the Pacific Northwest needed a family for her newborn who she could not care for. Through a network of connections, we were matched with her and began a new journey unlike anything we’d prepared for. We knew very little about this baby when we said yes except that she had a diagnosis of Trisomy 21. We didn’t even know what she looked like.
When my wife arrived at the hospital to take over medical decisions, she learned this baby also had a PDA, ASD, VSD, GERD, aspiration, pulmonary distress, and feeding issues. It took about an hour to realize this was not going to be a short process. Our little girl was going to have to fight to thrive and hers was shaping up to be a long one.
We have no idea what her needs will be. Right now it’s feeding and respiratory. Next month? Six months? A year? Five years? There’s just no way to know. But the same could be said of you and me or any of our other children. Who knows, right? We take a step and then we take another and when we find ourselves at an intersection we make a decision to keep going straight or to turn.
Jesus never promised easy. I worry sometimes we’ve been sold a lie when we’re told, “Follow Jesus and everything will fall into place.” The story Jesus is writing isn’t concerned with our lives lining up with our dreams. We do well when we learn that “falling into place” is actually “falling into submission.”
His story is for his glory, for his reputation. His work in our lives isn’t a wham-bam-one-and-done kind of project. He only begins things he plans on seeing through to the end.
And for you and me, for your kids and mine; for every dream that dies to give life to something new, he doesn’t waste a thing. He doesn’t quit when life gets hard. And neither do you.
So what if your whole world changes? You have permission to mourn the death of your dreams. It’s okay. Then celebrate the adventurous path on which you find yourself. You are being led by the Maker of Heaven.