I spent years working in international adoption and four years serving at New Day Foster Home. I have made referral calls and been there when parents met their children for the first time. I’ve seen the reactions of more parents than I can count, and I thought I knew what to expect as we embarked on this journey ourselves… but this isn’t how I thought I’d feel at all.
For one, I thought when we decided to adopt and were matched with a child, that I’d know, bone deep, that it was what we were “called” to do… I thought the questions would go away and the fears dissolve. But it hasn’t been like that at all. My questions became deeper and the fears became more specific.
I’m still wondering if this is going to totally disrupt our happy little existence as a family of three; just as I wondered this time 3 years ago, nearly 9 months pregnant with my first daughter, if her birth would turn our peaceful little “party of two” upside down. (It did, in all the best ways, and in my heart of hearts, I know the same will be true as we bring our next daughter into the fold of our family.) But in the meantime, I’m still questioning how my three-year-old daughter is going to handle being a big sister… not to a newborn, but to a busy toddler who immediately gets into her stuff. I’m wondering if I have the energy and the patience, when I feel totally spent at the end of most days now. What if she doesn’t attach? What if she arches away from me when I hold her? What if we find out her delays and medical needs are far more severe than we anticipate? What will I do if the child I meet in China is in far worse condition than the one I expect to see? What if, what if, what if. (Side note: I loved Amy’s post earlier this month about her own struggle with the “what ifs”… it was exactly what I needed to read. Don’t miss it!)
Her eyes are deep and soulful. They are curious, bright, and sparkling with life. She’s beautiful. I can see that clearly in the picture – Rosebud lips and a sweet button nose. When I was still imagining the moment I’d be matched with my child, I thought I’d immediately feel that she was mine. When Cora, my biological daughter, was placed on my chest for the first time… in that small delivery room in central Beijing, surrounded by nurses chattering in Chinese about her beautiful “double eyelids,” I felt like I’d met a stranger for the first time, and for several days (maybe weeks?), it felt more like babysitting than mothering. This isn’t so different, except it is even more abstract. My finger doesn’t yet know the curve of her nose, and my cheek doesn’t know the feel of her breath. She is a stranger who I’m choosing to stitch into my heart.
The reason I write all this out is because there’s been a question nagging in the back of my mind for weeks now… what does it mean to be “called to adoption?” Because on the surface, this doesn’t look at all like I thought it would (and that you may think it should).
Please hear me: I don’t think everyone should adopt. Some people would not make good adoptive parents. Some adoptions would not be successful because the parents are not in the place they need to be to help bring healing to a child. I’m not in the “if everyone would adopt, the world would have no orphans” camp.
But what troubles me is how often I hear people say something that amounts to “we aren’t called to adopt.” Maybe it is true, but I can’t help but wonder if it’s ever been seriously put on the table for discussion? What troubles me is how few people stop to truly consider if adoption could be right for their family, and sometimes I wonder if it’s because we have the wrong impression of what “being called” would look like and feel like.
“Being called” doesn’t always mean an absence of fear.
“Being called” doesn’t always mean certainty that everything will work out ok.
“Being called” doesn’t always mean that your adopted child will fit seamlessly into your life.
“Being called” doesn’t always mean that the road ahead will be easy.
There’s a new song by Hillsong called Oceans. (I’m listening to it right now… you should,too.) The chorus of the song has been my heart’s anthem these last few months, as we’ve wrestled with referral decisions and realized that we were far more terrified than we expected with all the choices we faced.
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders.
Let me walk upon the waters, wherever you would call me.
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander.
And my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior.
I want to go to a place where my trust in the Father is without borders, even if that takes me to the other side of the world to find my daughter and disrupts my comfortable little life in every possible way. I want my knowledge of His Love to grow deeper than my feet could ever wander, even if it means I spend the next year cradling, in the darkest hours of the night, an inconsolable baby who wants nothing to do with me even though I’m her mama.
The truth is, we are walking this out in holy terror.
Are we called to this? I don’t know. I know we want to adopt, but are we “called?” That phrase seems to be so loaded that I’m hesitant to use it. We are choosing to walk out this journey, trusting that He is with us – leading us and equipping us along the way. As his Kingdom-people, we are always called to love, so we can’t go wrong anytime that is our destination. And as we submit our plans to Him and call upon His name to prepare our path, we are walking this journey with clammy hands and fast-beating hearts… honest with Him about our fears and insecurities and choosing to trust that He is leading the way.
The reality is, we’re still living in the “in between.” In between the decision to step forward and the uncertainty of what that will mean. I can’t put pictures of our happy, beautiful family in this post. I can’t tell you that “It’s been hard, but it’s been worth it” yet. In my particularly panicky moments, I am finding comfort in C.S. Lewis’ wise words: “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”
It is a journey of faith for us, and I don’t know much… but I do know if you have thought that to “be called” to adoption meant feeling fearless and certain – unworried by all the chaos it could unleash in your life and untroubled about your ability to handle it all, and therefore surmised that you aren't called to adopt, then I can assure you that we aren’t called to do this, either.
But just as I felt when my daughter Cora was nothing more than a dream of “what if” – in spite of the fear, I’ve never wanted something more.
I do realize there are people who feel “called” to adopt but cannot, for any number of reasons… ineligibility, disagreeing spouses, marital status, etc. Please hear that I am not speaking to you. Often I find your passion for “orphan care” exceeds that of my own. I’m talking to the people who look a lot like me… whose lives are full and happy and who are living the “American Dream.” Those people who quiet the occasional whisper in their heart that maybe there is room at the table for one more because they look at what they have and worry about what might happen if they change that. The people who stop the conversation with an abrupt: we can’t afford that, we can’t handle that, we can’t put our bios through that, etc.
All I’m asking is that every single person put the question seriously on the table. Instead of “we can’t afford that,” ask “How have other average, working-class families afforded adoption? What sacrifices could we make to do this?” Instead of “We/Our Bios couldn’t handle that,” ask “What do other families a bit further down the road or adoption say? What has been their experience?”
If you do that and come to an honest, resounding “NO,” then thank you for wrestling with one of the hardest questions you’ll ever face… like I said earlier, not everyone is equipped to adopt, and there is no judgment there. But then the question can turn to, “How can I support waiting children, orphans, foster families, adoptive families, and orphan care organizations?” Because as the fatherless, those children are “OUR” children, and if the little ones who gather around our breakfast table each morning were in the same situation, we would desperately pray for the kindness of strangers to care for them while we could not.
We all have a role to play.