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What adoption is teaching me

Waiting for my children and facing my fears

It’s nearly Advent, but my mind is preoccupied with a different holiday. Four years ago, on Father’s Day weekend, my wife Chelsea penned an open letter to her father. I can only describe it as the most tender description of adoption I have ever read. Reflecting on her own adoption, Chelsea shared what her father’s love taught her about belonging and family: “Blood is the least of what makes a family. Godly love is the real lifeblood of a family.”

Love—and lots of paperwork.

The hard task of waiting

As I write these reflections in 2020, Chelsea and I are on our own adoptive journey. We hope to bring two little ones from India into our home in the near future, and are awash in paperwork. For any couple that has trod this road or is traveling it now, the rote act of filling out forms is a simple reality of adoption, and completing them is an infinitesimal price to pay for the inexpressible joy of building a family.

But in a way, the paperwork is deceitful. Or at least, it deceives me. When I complete a form or upload another document, I feel productive and preoccupied. And rightly so, for there is no way for us to bring children into our home apart from completing it. But the hustle of paperwork is really a façade that covers the deeper reality of adoption: waiting. 

Waiting for restoration. Waiting for healing. Waiting for them.

Chelsea and I can control the pace of paperwork, but we can’t control bureaucrats on the other side of the world. We can manage the tempo of appointments and fulfill obligations on our timetable, but we cannot bind God’s timing. We can position ourselves for success, but no amount of preparation will erase the brokenness and pain our future children will feel—for adoption always, always originates in loss. All we can do now is wait for our children’s safety, pray for their hearts, and hope that, by God’s grace, our meeting is soon.

The waiting of adoption is turning my gaze away from things and people beyond my control, and revealing my own desperate need to be restored and healed.

The lengthy nature of adoption is teaching me to sit in stillness and make peace with these truths, but, in honesty, I’d rather not. Deep in my heart, there is an innate discomfort with waiting, one I would rather avoid. As an American accustomed to the immediate, this disposition isn’t terribly surprising. But this fear goes beyond our cultural milieu to a deep place in my heart, beyond the reach or scope of paperwork or human power.

Facing fears

I want to believe the illusion that, just as it’s possible to perfectly complete an application without mistakes, it’s also possible to build a perfect family without brokenness. When I think of the “origin story” of our future children, it scares me to think that, before Chelsea or I enter the picture, others are already there as “mommy” and “daddy”—and that our kids will never fully understand themselves apart from the parents who were there first.

To put a finer point on it: I see so much that could come between my future children and me. And the only way to know what that chapter will actually entail is to, quite simply, wait for it.

These fears loom large, but I am finding comfort in my wife’s own story. To be sure, no two adoptions are alike. The more I listen to friends and acquaintances who have adopted or are adopted, the more I see this plain truth. But Chelsea’s dear letter to her father reveals, I think, a timeless truth that pervades every single adoption: God’s heart for the orphaned and abandoned. 

He created man and woman knowing our sin would separate us from him (Isa. 59:2). 

He knew we would reject him (Isa. 53:5) and deny ever knowing him (Luke 22:54-62), and that we would even claim the devil himself as our father (John 8:44).

God knew it all. And still he chose not only to save us by dying in our place (Rom. 5:8), but to adopt us and be our “Abba” Father (Rom. 8:15).

When we rebelled against God’s perfect plan, he became our perfect Savior. He didn’t condemn us to utter darkness; he came to rescue us (John 3:17).

As I mediate on these gospel truths, my heart is slowly turning away from the unknowns about my future children and facing what I want for my own heart. Yes, I want my children to look like Jesus (even if they’ll look nothing like me). And I desperately want to look like Jesus too. Of course I want our kids to bond with Chelsea and me and see us as their parents by love, if not by blood—but even more than that, I want to bond with the Father and see myself for who I am: his adopted son.

The waiting of adoption is turning my gaze away from things and people beyond my control, and revealing my own desperate need to be restored and healed. As Chelsea and I wait for our children, my heavenly Father waits for me day by day, moment by moment, to heal me. Amidst the hustle of paperwork and the bustle of anxieties, he promises rest to his children. 

Oh Lord, regardless of what future Father’s Days, Mother’s Days, birthdays, or any other days may bring, give me grace to enter your rest today as we wait.

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