Ok, so this is just a blog, so even though I usually stick with telling you funny things my kids do, I sometimes deviate into other random things. And today I decided maybe I should give you all a long-overdue glimpse into our adoption journey. Anya is home now on her fourth visit (two Christmases, and now, two summers), and we hope to bring her home permanently about a year from now. So far, a year and a half of getting to know her have flashed past, and it feels like she has been a part of our lives forever. But many of my friends have never even met her.
So...I think it's only fair, since a huge number of my blog reader friends have been our staunch supporters in this adoption--especially donating money toward her visits--to tell you a little more about our journey than you may know. We appreciate your support, and even your concern. So I thought I would tell a little of our story--or at least, of mine--here today.
Yes, it's scary, planning to adopt a 14-year-old (who will be 15, nearly 16, when we complete the adoption). Unbelievably scary. And it doesn't get less scary every time a friend or stranger finds out we're doing it. Sometimes the comments are warm and supportive; other times, they are cautious and even doubtful about the wisdom of this venture. We hear horror stories about adoption (and yes, we've already read lots of them too). We see the reluctant smiles and hear the hesitancy in the "May God bless you!" We know--it's risky. Adoptions have blown apart many families.
But sometimes God leads you into uncertain places, and you just go. The only certainty you have is that this is the path of love, and you'll grow into the image of Jesus by following it.
I started planning to adopt was when I was a kid, really--although maybe "planning" isn't the right word for the dreams of a starry-eyed little girl. Some of my favorite Your Story Hour classics featured orphans being adopted ("Orphan Arthur," anyone?). I read the book The Family Nobody Wanted over and over, mesmerized by the gripping true story of a pastoral couple who adopted 12 children, almost all classed as "unadoptable" because they were racially mixed. Someday, my idealistic little-girl heart felt sure, I would adopt too.
However, at 27, engaged to the man of my dreams, I wasn't so sure that parenthood--let alone adoption--was a priority for me. Alan's and my premarital discussion of parenting pretty much amounted to, "What if we can't have kids? Oh well--I wasn't sure if I wanted them anyway." We agreed that if we did have kids, of course, I was staying home to raise them as long as necessary. And we agreed that adoption was not off the table.
We were married a year and a half before we got pregnant. (Don't you love how people say "we" on that?) Then we had 3 kids in less than 3 1/2 years. When the youngest was 6 months old and the oldest was 3 (nearly 4), we moved cross-country to a place where we had no family and almost no friends.
Parenting 3 small children defies description. Just trying to buy groceries was hopeless--there wasn't even room in the cart once I got all the kids in, and then anything I put in was smashed, sampled or thrown out. I felt like I would never, ever, sleep through the night again, never eat a meal in peace, never wear clothes that weren't planned around dirty fingers ("no white pants or skirts, thank you") and baby barf ("how stainproof is it?").
It was pure craziness.
You would think that would cure anyone of the mothering urge. I was overwhelmed, and parenting most definitely was not something I felt I had under control. Instead, it was (and still is) the hardest thing I have ever undertaken. And one of the most rewarding, of course. (Most days.)
Adoption? Whenever I mentioned that to my husband, he countered with some form of "Are you kidding? We're already totally overwhelmed." And he was right.
About seven years ago, I began experiencing the growing sense that there was another child, a girl, somewhere, who we were to adopt. A girl who I suspected had brown eyes (and maybe brown skin?). I didn't know if it was the Spirit of God, my own imagination, or the devil trying to lure me into further delaying the sanity that people promised came someday when they could all feed themselves and clean up after themselves. But I just felt that she was out there somewhere. Sometimes, I prayed for her, always specifying that if she existed, I wanted God to preserve her from evil, and bring her to our family when the time was right.
And in the midst of all the craziness of life, in little ways, I prepared too.
When we were discussing moving back to California to work with a burgeoning ministry, my husband was clear: if we did that, there would be no money for adoption. So when we decided to stay in Collegedale instead, one of the first things I said to him was, "Good! That means we can adopt!"
My husband has this way of looking at me like I'm crazy. I will neither confirm nor deny he used it right then.
Several months later, when we bought a house, I painstakingly shopped online for bunk beds for our daughter's room. "For when we have a guest," I said. But the other bed belonged, in my mind, to the potential other daughter. When we stripped off the wallpaper in the bathroom of our new house, I was thrilled to see the towel hooks I wanted came in packages of two, so I had to hang four in the bathroom. I paused to smile when I looked at them. One for her. Just in case.
When we bought a car (since we could only afford one, with me staying at home), my husband suggested we should get one that held only five people--our whole family. But I insisted we really needed to be able to fit in more, just in case. "Because sometimes I have the kids' friends along, too." And I know you'll never let me bring another kid home when our car only fits five.
It's not that Alan and I never talked about it between us. We did. But my husband's journey to adoption was very different than mine. He prayed about it. He read the books I bought. He told me he just didn't see it. That there were so many students here at the university who needed a home, and that's why we moved here--because we had a vision of discipleship.
And he was right. I couldn't argue. That was why we moved here--to disciple students. And I was confident that if God wanted us to adopt, He would lay it on both of our hearts, not just mine.
But I just kept praying. "God, you know, with all the work of three, if You brought just the right one, it wouldn't be much more work. You know, one who can share clothes with Anaya, who will fit in the same room, who doesn't have major attachment disorders or other issues, and one who fits our family climate just right. If she's out there somewhere, I know You know where she is. Find her, protect her, and bring her to us at the right time."
Then, 5 years ago, we went through my husband's accident, where he was hit by a car while crossing the street and broke his back. That was followed by his surprise diagnosis with Hepatitis C shortly afterward, and the treatment that followed. In retrospect, those were good reasons why God didn't bring us another daughter at that time. But I also know now that, at that time, Anya's biological mother was still alive, and she wouldn't have been available for adoption.
But sometime in 2014 or so, my daughter's mother was killed. And in 2015, I saw the big brown eyes of a waif in a picture in a photo listing. It was a photo listing of orphans available to come to America for a few weeks at Christmas.
And I couldn't get those solemn chocolate-brown eyes out of my mind.
So I brought the picture to my hubby. "Look," I said, "this one says she's not legally available for adoption. What do you think?"
He looked at me like I knew exactly what he thought. He didn't even want to see the picture. But he did finally look at her picture, grinned and said, "There, I looked at her. Yes, she's cute."
One after another, the kids on the photo listing were taken. But she was still left. The unadoptable girl. And reluctantly, my husband looked at her picture again every now and then when I showed her to him.
Long story short, because she was unadoptable, my husband finally agreed we could bring this one home for Christmas. "Because no matter how much you fall in love with her," he assured me cheerfully, "we can't adopt her."
I am sitting now in our living room, writing this, as our girlie lies on the couch across the room. She's still unadoptable, right now. She's home from Ukraine for the summer, but will have to go back in August. We have about another year before she can be adopted internationally. But it's been a year and a half now of growing into each other. It's been such a crazy, wonderful journey, with such a crazy, wonderful girl.
It's scary stuff, this adoption business. There aren't many guarantees in life, and adoption is full of uncertainty. After all, we're trying to adopt a child from a country that is currently at war with Russia. She lives right by the border of Ukraine and Russia. Her father has signed paperwork to release her to us, but he could still revoke it.
But sometimes, you just realize that you're not in the driver's seat of your life, and the wheel is in the hands of Someone who is far more capable than you are. And you know that the path where He leads may lie through the desert or the sea, but it is a safe path.
There are no guarantees in adoption, or in parenting in general. Love is risky. But ultimately, if God took the risk to love us, sometimes we just have to seek to walk in His footsteps, to love well, no matter what the outcome might be.
We love a girl. She belongs in our family. She has made the difficult decision to leave her friends, language, homeland, and everything familiar, out of love for our family. So when people tell me we are brave for doing this, I want to shout "No! We're not the brave ones here." When they say she's lucky, I want to shout "No! No child is lucky to lose her parents and be launched unwillingly into a journey of grief and loss."
But she is blessed. The hand of God has been over her. And more than that, we are blessed to know her. We are blessed to watch her growing to love Jesus, growing to love us, and growing into who she is called to be, by grace.
So, pray for us. We appreciate it so much. And, as God leads, help us love this girl into the kingdom. Because she is so, so worth it.