I’d like to tell you that I have a pure heart and consequently, our pursuit of children through adoption was from a motive of pure religion.
I’d like to tell you that adoption is always beautiful and inspirational as Romans 8 says it is.
I’d like to tell you all to adopt one of the millions orphans around the world
But I can’t. I can only tell you my story.
Laura and I had been married for several years when we tried to start a family. By 2007, it wasn’t happening and we heard the dreaded word from the dreaded doctor: infertility.
We had been exposed to this heartache through a couple that had mentored us in college and some after college when we had lived as missionaries in Russia. We had even changed they way we talked about kids – “if we have kids” instead of “when we have kids.” But, you’re never prepared for this type of punch to the gut. As a woman who longs to be a mother, you’re never prepared for your dreams to be shattered. As a man who longs to provide, you’re never prepared to feel so helpless.
In March 2008, we experienced yet another failure in trying to get pregnant, so we decided to stop trying and spend the summer praying about next steps – specifically international adoption. International adoption was always something we had thought about pursuing, and had seen up close through the same couple that had mentored us, so it was a natural next step for us to consider. At the end of the summer, we didn’t have any Damascus-road-blinding-light-in-the-sky epiphanies that made the decision easy. It was a simple September night in 2008 when I walked downstairs with the credit card and said to Laura, “Let’s do it.” So we paid the $300 registration fee and set off.
What followed was one of the most overwhelming and exhausting seasons of my life – and that was before we brought our son home! International adoption paperwork, especially in the former Soviet Union, is no joke. It was a second full-time job to get all of the right paperwork figured out, sorted, filled out, notarized, certified, sealed with an apostille (something only adoptive parents and foreign emissaries have ever heard of!) both with the country of adoption (Russia) and our own government (to get a visa for our son to enter the USA). We had lived in Russia, and understood the deep scrutiny over the smallest details such as the placement of a staple, creases in the paper and the continuity of our personal signatures.
The paperwork process itself can take several years, but God blessed us in that by February 2009, we had submitted everything. The waiting game had begun. Who would be our child? A boy? A girl? How old? We were expecting at least eight months to go by before we found out the answers, so we made preparations to head to Colorado for our summer assignment with our mission agency. Then came the phone call – four months early. After the phone call came the picture – the most beautiful picture we had ever seen – the face of our son. We then made a mad dash from the Four Corners of the US back to where we lived in Tennessee to get our passports, get visas and travel to meet our son.
I couldn’t tell you then, but I can tell you now that up until that point, I hadn’t realized my own expectations and desires that were wrapped up in bringing this boy home. I was being a typical man – solving a problem. Can’t get pregnant? Want a baby? Millions of orphans in the world? Let’s adopt! Problem solved. Of course, I recognized God’s heart for the orphan, but if I am honest, at that time, this whole thing was about me and what I wanted: to give my wife a child, to look amazing to friends, family and ministry partners, to SAVE this little boy. How amazing and gracious of me!
My world began to unravel as I met my son for the first time. I had expected a glorious moment, but instead I was afraid and unsure. He was so small, so fragile, so sickly, so delayed. It took me an hour to feel comfortable enough to hold him, but soon enough, I warmed up and we began to connect. We had some good moments on that trip, but the time flew by and we had to leave to fly back to the US to wait for our court date and prepare even more paperwork.
As we left our son behind without knowing when we would return, evening turned to twilight. We rode the bumpy road through the Russian countryside and were talking about how in the world we were going to have enough money to do this, we looked in the sky and saw a double rainbow (yes, a double rainbow). We reflected on the promise of God to Noah, and while we didn’t have a direct promise of fulfillment of our ensuing adoption, we felt comforted to know that our God is the God who loves the orphan and is the God who keeps promises.
We came back in October 2009 for our court date. I guess God was preparing me even more for preaching because I had to give a speech to the judge about why we should be allowed to adopt this child. I got inspirational and passionate, and meant what I said, but once again, there was a slight undercurrent of selfishness and pride. I still kept thinking that this was about us getting a child and saving an orphan. We were declared the parents of Liam Samuel Jones on October 1st, 2009 and we were finally able to get him out of the orphanage on October 13, 2009 – Gotcha Day. As he crossed into the US on October 22, 2009, he became a legal US citizen. Thus ended the legal portion of Liam’s adoption. I kind of thought that the hard part of the adoption was over. Oh, how I was wrong.
If I had thought that the paperwork season was overwhelming, it was nothing compared to becoming an instant parent, especially a parent of a malnourished and severely delayed child with special needs that we had only begun to understand. If getting him out of the orphanage was the rescuing, bringing him home was the saving. We saw doctor upon doctor and therapist upon therapist. God’s grace was evident along the way to provide resource after resource. He couldn’t eat solid food or drink thin liquids for more than a year after we brought him home – only baby oatmeal and pureed baby food. He was 16 pounds at 18 months. He couldn’t walk or crawl and could barely sit up straight. By the end of 2010, after much blood, sweat and tears, he came through some really tough times and had advanced physically to the point where we could consider moving back overseas with our missions agency. Again, I thought to myself, “The hard part is over. It took two years but we got our child, problem solved and I can now turn my attention back to ministry, specifically overseas missions like we had always planned.” Oh, how I was wrong.
We spent the next year preparing, moving and serving overseas and Liam’s needs kind of got lost in the shuffle. He had made so much progress that we weren’t as focused on seeing his needs. Our overseas assignment was particularly hard, and by the time we returned we were all burned out and in need of direction. We began to notice behaviors and things that we had not noticed before. His physical delays seemed to be mostly gone, but he still wasn’t emotionally where we thought he should be for his age. He got over stimulated and had much difficulty in regulating himself. He had trouble navigating age appropriate situations. We began to see that there was another layer of issues to deal with and it made me angry – even livid. I had poured out my life for almost three years and it felt like one step forward, five steps back.
I was still seeing this adoption through the lens of self – He was child to be fixed, a problem to be solved, a burden to be lifted. I am disgusted even writing those words, but they accurately described my state of mind at the time. What was happening was that I was coming face-to-face with my greatest idol – control. I could not control Liam. I couldn’t fix him with logic or the right techniques or right therapies. I didn’t have the resources, or the energy, or the time or even the right perspective to do all and be all that he needed for me to save him.
For. Me. To. Save. Him. Do you get it? I had to be the savior. I had to be the one in control. I didn’t trust God to do what I thought needed to be done and I wanted the glory and the praise for this amazing thing we had done.
I began to see that one acting like an orphan was me.
How gracious of God to crush me. How gracious of God to bring a little boy into my life that I could not fix. He took a weak baby boy and made me weaker. He took a strong-willed former orphan to break down a strong-willed former orphan.
Paul says in Romans 8 that we ourselves, along with creation, groan inwardly as we await our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. Surely in Christ, we are declared sons and daughters by grace through faith – we are united with Christ. But that is our legal adoption. Just as we legally adopted Liam into our family, so I had been legally adopted into God’s family when he saved me.
There is another aspect of adoption that I have learned in the trenches of life: there is a forming and confirming of our legal adoption every day. Liam was decreed to be my son, and without a doubt he is my son. Not a moment goes by that I don’t see him as a deeply loved son – yet this does not always lead him to act like a son. He still had effects from his former life. And so it is with us and our sonship in God’s family. Not a moment goes by that God doesn’t look at you in Christ and see deeply loved son or a deeply loved daughter. But we don’t always act like sons and daughters. We have all of the right information and techniques and therapies, right? We have his Word. We know how sons and daughters are supposed to act. But just as that does not work as I parent Liam, it doesn’t work for us – our former lives effect us! Sin distorts our growth as sons and daughters.
Any good father will discipline his son to train him to be he way he wants him to be, and as the writer of Hebrews tells us, any discipline at the time seems unpleasant. Yet, it is for our good.
That is why I can look back at my life and see why God has allowed me to walk through infertility. That is why I can look back and see the pain and suffering of bringing this boy along. I’m not in control. Never have been and never will be. I needed to learn that, and am still learning that every day. As I eagerly wait the completion of my adoption in Christ, I don’t want to just have the status of son – I want to live as a son.
How gracious of God to use an orphan to save me.