It was shortly after deciding to adopt a couple years ago that we got into a conversation about adoption with our dear friends Chris and Natasha (Chris also happens to be Wes's brother). They had adopted from Ethiopia several years earlier. Their daughter, our niece Ester, is this amazing, beautiful, brilliant, little girl; and their journey to her is an amazing story in and of itself. But standing around in our kitchen that day they told us something interesting. They said one of the most uncomfortable things that people say to them concerning their adoption is that "You're such great people for doing this(adopting)". And my first reaction was "Yeah guys, must be real tough having people tell you that you're awesome all the time." But I tucked away that conversation and came back to it recently. You see, lately we've been getting a fair amount of this same sentiment. It's all well meaning, of course, and I do appreciate the overwhelming support we've received. If you know me well, you'll not be surprised to find out that I often have to choke down my snarky retort of "I know, right? I'm pretty much awesome." :) But I do admit that the "you're such great people for saving those kids" sentiment does elicit a fair amount of awkwardness for me. (Aside from the general awkwardness that is Nancy, of course). :) And here's why: because it simply isn't true. Perhaps I should go back to the beginning to explain my point. Way back.
About 25 years ago a little girl in the second grade gave a presentation on "China". I could have picked any subject and why I picked the very broad subject of China, I'm not really sure. Apparently they don't teach focusing and narrowing your topic in the second grade. It was the kind of presentation with the tri-fold cardboard display that you set up in the gym for classmates and parents to peruse. I dutifully glued facts, figures, and pictures to my cardboard display and somehow through this process, a seed was planted in this little girl's heart for international adoption. I knew that babies were adopted from China, and I decided even at that young age, that I wanted one of them in my family. And the idea of the family I someday wanted began to take shape in my mind's eye.
Fast forward a decade or so. Wes and I were best friends from a very young age, and dated through high school and college. (With only a few famous hiccups along the way.) Towards the end of college we became engaged. Now if you know Wes and I, you know that we are planners through and through. We organize, think through, and plan every detail. We discussed children and he agreed that international adoption was a good idea. So the plan was that we'd finish our schooling (Med school/PA school), then start to have a family. We'd have three biological children, and then when the youngest of those children was school aged we'd consider international adoption, likely from China. Before we were even married we had prospective names picked out for our future children. Not in the weird, doodle on notebooks, sentimental kind of way, but simply because we like to be prepared. We're planners. So we married, completed our schooling, started our careers as medical professionals and became pregnant with our beautiful daughter, Jena. In that order. Everything went according to plan. And then it didn't.
Just after Jena was born my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I wasn't prepared for that. It wasn't in my plan. See, he was supposed to be around for many more years. He was supposed to meet, and love-on, and help raise my children. He died 10 months later, and I was heart-broken. I was also secretly furious at God for taking a detour from the plan. This was not how I saw it. This is not what we'd planned for.
Then it was time for that second child to come. But he never came. I began a years-long losing battle with infertility. Not part of the plan. And the family that I had seen for years in my mind's eye never came to fruition. I was angry, and hurt, and lost and consumed with the kind of guilt that only people who've struggled with infertility can identify with.
So in the midst of this, we came to international adoption much earlier than my plan had allowed for. We began to apply for China programs. As it turns out, China will not accept applicants with large amounts of debt. And with school loans for med school and PA school done simultaneously, you better believe we have a large amount of debt. Most physicians leave their schooling with 6 figure student loan debt and we were no exception. We begged and pleaded with the China coordinators, but they told us that even though we make a good income and by American Standards would most definitely be able to afford more children, China doesn't see it this way. An amount of debt this large for any reason would not be tolerable. Not part of the plan.
And so we came to Ethiopia. It was a thriving program at the time, and they would accept our large amount of school loans because our income offset this. We worked through our application and dossier, and soon after completing it the Ethiopia program fell apart. Delays abounded.
None of this was part of my plan, and I was simply lost in the middle of it. I didn't know my way around this unknown territory, and I was angry that I was even here. I became pregnant and then miscarried. Definitely not part of my plan.
It was in a very broken moment just before we switched adoption agencies that I remember saying to Wes "I just feel like this adoption has become the only way for me to find redemption". Redemption. God would bring this word to me over and over again in the next few months. And I don't know if adoption was the only way for me to FIND redemption. But in the end I know it was the only way for me to UNDERSTAND redemption. And with that understanding I slowing began to release the white knuckled death grip that I'd had on my own plans for my own life. God began to replace my plan with a new vision that included two precious brown baby boys. And I see it now: This is so much better. I did indeed begin to find redemption. Because here is what is happening:
An American woman lost and disillusioned with failed plans, unprocessed grief, and unfulfilled expectations is to be united with two Ethiopian little boys who have lost literally everything. And in this process we will both find redemption. Because this is the business that God is in, my friends. The business of redemption. It's grief and loss + grief and loss = unspeakable joy. Only God does that kind of math. Out of wreckage, out of brokenness, out of dust: He makes beautiful things.
So the point I'm making is that when people say "You're such great people for saving these kids", the reason I'm uncomfortable is because it simply isn't the truth. The truth is that they saved me.