If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a thousand times, “Adoption is a gift”. People respond with a smile and a nod of their heads. Sometimes I get to go a little deeper and share details of our story and how we came to be the parents of a child with significant physical and mental disabilities. Usually people respond with something like, “Yes, I’m sure he is a gift!” or “Your family is such a gift to him!”
What I really want to do is to grab their hands, look them in the eyes, and tell them the truth:
Adoption is the hardest thing I have ever done. Adoption has required me to walk daily, often hand in hand, with suffering. Adoption has transformed my life.
And that is the greatest, most unexpected gift.
Five years ago, when we saw a sweet little face on a waiting child list, my heart said yes before my head could even catch up. What followed was a whirlwind of praying, paperwork, and raising funds. Thirteen months later we stood in a hot stuffy room in China, waiting to meet the little boy who only existed to us in a few roughly translated words, medical explanations and pictures.
I was not ready for what lay ahead. I was not prepared for the complete and total surgery Jesus was about to do on my life and heart. Because when that little boy was put in my arms, stiff and smelly and drooling, something shattered inside me. My hopes and dreams and misplaced savior complex died.
And the reality of parenting a child with severe special needs came rushing in. I felt the weight of his suffering and his broken life, and it became my own.
We came home and life felt unfamiliar and uncomfortable. But I smiled and held it together. I told myself that his lack of speech and his mental delays were mostly orphanage related. I kept on doing all the things: the making him special foods, and taking him to appointments, and smiling and singing and hoping.
But I was dying inside. My heart was struggling with love and I didn’t know what to do about it.
All I could see was this child who was so much more than we anticipated.
A child who couldn’t speak to us.
A child who was having uncontrollable seizures and living in a fog of confusion.
A child who still wore diapers, long past potty training age.
A child would never live independently.
I was suffering. I felt like a total failure because our adoption was not the feel good story I had imagined. My son was suffering. I watched as he struggled to do things that came so easily to his peers. I prayed for wisdom as we dealt with medical issues. I sat through the IEP meetings that so glaringly highlighted his shortcomings. I held him as he sobbed and sobbed, no words available to explain the deep sorrow in his soul.
And through it all God was holding fast to me. He was weaving the story I couldn’t see, preparing me for the gift I didn’t realize I even needed. The pouring out of my life on behalf of someone else. The gift of dying to myself.
For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. Philippians 1:21
One of my favorite Bible verses. But as God began to knit our life back together I came to realize that I was only now beginning to understand it.
I hadn’t understood that God often calls us to something so much bigger and harder than we could ever imagine. And when we walk in that suffering, when we embrace it and run to it and drop to our knees and cry out to Jesus through it, we get something so much better.
We get Christ.
One of my favorite worship songs repeats the lyrics “Hallelujah, all I have is Christ! Hallelujah, Jesus is my life.”
This is what adoption has given me. This is the unexpected gift of the struggle. We get to walk hand in hand with a God who can meet every need. We get to see the transforming power of love, hope, and the perseverance of faith. We get the hard work and privilege of dying to ourselves… sometimes daily, sometimes minute by minute. And in return, we experience a bigger portion of Christ.
I fell in love with my son. And in the process, I fell deeply in love with Jesus.
This is the unexpected gift of adoption. The same incredible gift we celebrate at Christmas. God is with us. We get Jesus!
And hallelujah, He alone is enough.
– guest post by René