The End of a Journey

In December 2015, Emily and I officially started walking down the road to adoption. We started that journey in faith, but not without some measure of trepidation and anxiety. We’ve always been open to adoption, but stewarding a full, busy, noisy home of four children made us a bit fearful about whether adoption would be a wise decision for our family. Nevertheless, we began that journey with Lifeline Children’s Services (as a side note, I cannot say enough good things about Lifeline. If you are considering adoption, foster care, or even simply want to sponsor a child, I would highly recommend you using this agency), not knowing what the future might hold for us. On March 22, 2016, I wrote the following in the initial blog about our adoption story:

It’s strange and exciting to think that Emily and I have more children somewhere in the world. We think that “somewhere” is probably Costa Rica. And by children we’re saying we’re open to adopting more than 1 child. We’re open to adopting siblings, but that’s not definite. Wow. We might have 6 kids in the near future. That’s crazy. Does that mean we will have to purchase one of those Nissan NV passenger vans?

About seven months after God began writing our adoption story, the Father led us to High Point, North Carolina. The transition to life with our new family, Community Bible Church, naturally slowed down the progress of our adoption. We had completed our home study in Tennessee, but we now had to meet with a social worker certified in the state of North Carolina. Upon approval, the Tennessee home study would be amended so that we could continue the process. Unbeknown to us, God would use this natural pause in the adoption process to begin doing a new, but unexpected work in our hearts.

To make a long story short, one of the practical implications of this “new but unexpected work” is that we will not likely have to buy one of those massive Nissan NV passenger vans, not unless God does another new but unexpected thing in our lives. That is because Emily and I have decided to withdraw from the adoption process. We are no longer pursuing adoption in Costa Rica, or anywhere for that matter. We do not know if this means we will never adopt. Right now it seems unlikely, but we are open to whatever God wants to do in and through our family.

As you can imagine, this decision has been painful. It did not come easily, or without some measure of doubt. The doubting comes in the form of wondering if we were being obedient to God when we started this process, and whether we are being obedient to God now.

Maybe this news comes as a surprise to you, the idea that a pastor might have some measure of doubt or be unclear about whether he is following where Jesus is leading him and his family. But I hope you aren’t surprised. My feet are clay and my frame is dust just like yours. Knowing what God wants me to do isn’t always as clear as I would want it to be. We certainly never expected to start something we would not finish, so if you are surprised, then you are not alone. Or maybe this news comes as a relief to you. I know this has been the case for some of our friends. Maybe you couldn’t imagine a family of six inviting more chaos into their lives.

It might help to know that we did not begin this adoption journey with absolute and unwavering confidence God wanted us to adopt. That may sound strange to some readers, but it shouldn’t surprise you. It’s shouldn’t be a surprise because walking by faith is not knowing with certainty where God is leading you or what God plans to do when you get there, and then joining him in the journey. If we need the kind of certainty to obey God that tells us exactly what will happen before we step out and follow Jesus, then we aren’t really interested in walking by faith; Rather, we are expressing a need to walk by sight. As Jon Bloom has said, “Walking by faith is following the unseen into an unknown, and believing Jesus’ words over and against the threats we see and the fears we feel.”

Emily and I have always been “open” to adopting but we’ve never been certain we should adopt. Some people feel this certainty or sense of call to adopt. I’m sure of it because I’ve heard their stories and witnessed their resolve to adopt not matter the cost. But Emily and I never felt any kind of unequivocal compulsion to adopt. We had a desire to adopt. We had the means to begin the process. And we started this journey by faith because we believed adoption was the most practical and obvious way to live out James 1:27: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” And frankly, even though we are ending our present journey, if God drops an opportunity in our lap to adopt, we will certainly prayerfully consider it.

What we know is that in the time we’ve been in North Carolina, Emily and I have both wondered if God wanted us to continue pursuing adoption. Frankly, neither of us knew the other one was wavering in the least. It was a conversation I avoided for as long as possible.  I was fearful that maybe my doubts were the product of a weak faith that was becoming an obstacle to a desire we believed God had birthed in our hearts.

As we were waiting for our home study to be amended, the Spirit was working in our waiting. He was placing people in our lives with stories that gave each of us different perspectives on adoption, showing us both the good and the bad in an up close and personal way. He was showing us how different life as a Senior Pastor is, and how important it is for our home to be a place of safety, peace, and refuge. We were already counting the cost of how disruptive adoption will be to our home and routines (yes, adoption is intrusive, and in some ways, it can be like a bomb going off in your home), but our new surroundings and circumstances were causing us to see the rigors and challenges of adoption in a new way.

But then there was the most compelling question of all: Is this what God wants us to do? Because if God wants us to do something, then no cost is too great, no price is too high to pay for obedience to our loving Savior. And to be honest, this was the question that haunted me the most. I wasn’t sure adoption was what God wanted us to do. I’m firmly convinced He wanted us to begin this process, but it wasn’t clear the Father wanted us to continue the process (which we have since learned from our agency is a common occurrence). And I have even less clarity as to why the Father would want us to start something He did not intend for us to complete, but the life of faith never promises us answers to our questions, only that God will be with us, working for our good and His glory, despite our questions.

So, Emily and I decided not to adopt, and we have made that decision in faith. And ultimately, that’s all we can do, because anything that is not done in faith is sin (Romans 14:23). We are simply following the unseen (God) into the unknown and trusting Him as we do it. Yes, this decision has been painful. It’s painful because we are grieving the loss of what we believe is a God-honoring, Christ-exalting desire. It’s painful because we realize that there are children all over the world who need a forever family, and it’s not in the cards for us to be one of those families. It’s also been a difficult decision because we had skin in the game. We have already paid thousands of dollars toward our adoption, and we will not recoup any of that investment.

Our journey to parenthood has been almost effortless, especially when I contrast it with so many friends who have wrestled with infertility, miscarriages, stillborn children, and agonizingly long waits for their adoptions to be finalized. This journey has been one of the first and few difficult seasons of our marriage, difficult not because it has created strain between Emily and I, but because we are being told “no” to something we both so desperately wanted. Even though I don’t know why God would lead us to start a journey He did not intend for us to complete, I know that God is writing our story, and He is trustworthy, even when we aren’t sure what He is doing or why He is leading us where He is leading us. We’re thankful for and comforted by that reality.

Walking by faith is a not a small thing. The life of faith can sometimes be perilous, unnerving, and confusing. That’s because we want to know that all our decisions are going to turn out the way that we want them to. When we desire something that we know honors Jesus (because we have evaluated that desire with Scripture), all we can do is act by pursuing that desire, following the Unseen God into the unknown, until God makes it clear we should do otherwise. What Emily and I have discovered in this faith journey is that sometimes God provides unplanned detours. Proverbs 16:9 says, “The heart of a man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” This change in our plans has been by God’s design. The end of this journey is God’s will for our lives right now. We know and believe that. And it is His good design and loving heart that we are trusting in.

If you love, know, and treasure Jesus, then I have no doubt God is calling you to walk by faith. And as I said before, this is no small thing. Ultimately, we cannot do anything without God (John 15:5). I’m certain that you have difficult decisions to make about your future, just like us. I would encourage you to pray and ask God for help (Psalm 50:15). Place your desires under the scrutiny and light of God’s Word. And if those desires magnify Jesus and the kingdom of God, then act in faith (Philippians 2:12-13), trusting God to lead you every step of the way, even against the fears you feel. He is faithful, and as Jesus promised, He is always with you (Matthew 28:18-20). This has been a comforting promise for us as we walk in faith, and it’s my prayer that you will be comforted and encouraged by how God has worked in our lives, as a reminder that He has good plans for your life in the gospel as well.

 

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Gaining Momentum

The transition to North Carolina has gone well, but a consequence of our move to High Point was that our adoption process lost momentum. Once it became clear the Father was moving our family, we had two decisions to make. First, we had to decide whether to complete our home study in Tennessee, knowing we would have to amend it once we became residents in North Carolina, or simply suspend our home study in Tennessee and start over in North Carolina. We decided to complete our home study and amend it, and we are still working through that process.

Our second decision was a little more significant. As residents of Tennessee, the only adoption we could pursue through Lifeline Children’s Services was an international adoption. This was because Lifeline does not do domestic adoptions in Tennessee. During the relocation process to North Carolina, we learned that Lifeline had an office in Charlotte and that we could, if we chose to, pursue either a domestic or international adoption as North Carolina residents.

This presented an intriguing option for us that we did not have to consider in Tennessee. The differences between a domestic adoption versus an international adoption are significant. Yes, there a wide gap in the financial cost of a domestic adoption and an international adoption. But there were more significant considerations for our family.

A domestic adoption would have likely meant: (a) adopting an infant; (b) being actively involved in caring for and serving the birth mother (a ministry we were very open to); (c) the likelihood of an open adoption (an option we have felt some anxiety about). None of these were insurmountable in our minds, but there were obstacles for our family with a domestic adoption.

According to our social worker, the fact that we already have 4 children would have made us a less attractive option for a birth mother for several reasons. First, many birth mothers who courageously choose adoption desire their child to be welcomed into a family where the birth mother sees a real need and longing for the placement of her child. That often means selecting a family that does not already have children. Another obstacle for both the birth mother and our family would have been the age of our children. Josie, our youngest child, is now 6 years old. Bringing an infant into our home would be like hitting the reset button on the birth order. An adopted baby would not have the joy of growing up with siblings around his or her age. That might make our family less attractive to a birth mother as well.

Emily and I shared these concerns for our family. It was difficult to imagine welcoming a baby into our busy home. In addition, our kids want to grow up with their adopted brother and/or sister. They want them to be closer in age to them.

So, we decided to stick with our original plan to adopt internationally. We are still planning to adopt from Costa Rica. Adopting an older child presents a whole other set of obstacles, but that’s another blog for another day.

We’re intrigued at the story God is writing for our family. The church I now pastor (Community Bible Church) sent out a family from our congregation to advance the gospel in Costa Rica several years ago. Emily and I both find this to be an encouraging act of providence from the Lord. That means, whenever we travel to Costa Rica, not only will we have the joy of receiving our son, but we will also have ample opportunity to encourage our missionaries and assist them in their work.

We’re hoping our home study will be amended and finalized by the end of the year. Following that process we hope to complete our dossier by the end of the first quarter of 2017. At that point the waiting begins, but at least we’re gaining traction again in the process.

Over the next several months we will start sharing information about how you can partner with us in this journey. We will not be able to finish what we have started with your prayerful support. We are trusting the Father to provide the patience, perseverance, and finances necessary to complete the journey we believe He’s called us to in this season of life.

Digging Up Bones

What is your favorite idiom? Maybe you aren’t even sure what an idiom is. An idiom is a word or phrase not intended to be taken literally. For example, the phrase “he bought the farm” has nothing to do with some guys buying a plot of real estate to start a farm. It means that someone died. Or when someone is about to step on stage for a big performance you might say, “Break a leg!” You, of course, do not literally mean you hope your friend breaks their leg (unless you have a sick, twisted view of friendship). This idiomatic phrase is meant to communicate you hope they do well in their performance.

The idiom “digging up bones” means to look into the past and uncover or examine long buried secrets. We all bury things from our past. We repress memories. We reinterpret our past into a story more suitable to our sensibilities or our remembrance. Some of us are even guilty of revisionist history with our past. Our telling of the past today may only be a shade of the truth, depending on who or what we want to blame or frame or vilify or demonize or romanticize.

Frankly, I’ve never been too fond of digging in graveyards. The way I see it, if I cannot remember something from my past, there is probably good reason for that. Maybe the memory isn’t really memorable or it’s too painful or it’s inconsequential or benign.

Despite the fact that I would prefer not to “dig up bones”, that is, apparently, a part of the adoption process. It is important to our case worker that we dig into our past, resurrect those dirty bones, bring them into the light, reassemble them into their original state, and talk about what stories they tell about who I am and why I do what I do.

The exercise itself doesn’t sound too difficult, right? I’m a normal guy. I have never had extensive counseling (disclaimer: not that people who have had extensive counseling aren’t “normal”. In fact, people who intentionally pursue counseling may actually be more in touch with reality than those who think they don’t need it). I do not have a history of abuse or neglect or significant trauma. And so, in my mind, this exercise was going to be a piece of cake. I got my shovel and started to dig, expecting to find a shallow grave of memories.

But my shovel just kept on digging beyond those bones that lay beneath the surface. Once I got past those shallow memories of childhood vacations and my first fight and my favorite place to live, I began uncovering bones I didn’t even know existed, like the scaphoid bone, one of the 8 bones you have in your wrist (I bet you would have guessed there were fewer). I started unearthing bones I didn’t even know I buried, things I’ve never really thought about, but things that have nevertheless shaped me in deep and profound ways.

When you start digging up bones, if you really dig until you uncover all the bones, you begin to discover many disconnects in your life. There is the reality of what actually happened in your past and the impact those events had on your character, your ability to attach and detach relationally, how you cope with change, and how you fought to shape a future different from the burden of your past. But you are also forced to confront what happened in your past in contrast with what you wanted or hoped would happen in your past: remembering why relationships were lost, the emptiness of unrequited desires, the regret of unfulfilled ambitions, the pain of broken, irreversible circumstances and lost opportunities, a lingering father hunger.

I’m not yet ready to write about what kind of bones I’ve found. Maybe I will be someday soon. But this element of the journey is an unexpected twist in this adoption story. I take comfort in the fact that all along the way God is really the one who has been writing my story. Not one thing has happened in my life that God has not sovereignly orchestrated to bring me to the place I am right now, resting in His mercy, grace, and patient, steadfast love. It is in light of the gospel story that I find meaning and purpose in the dirty, discarded, and forgotten bones of my past. I’m grateful to know, love, and serve a God who brings beauty from ashes (Isaiah 61:3).

“Are We Crazy?”

I asked our caseworker this question multiple times at the first of four meetings as a part of our home study. For those of you who do not know very much about the adoption process, the home study is meant to assess the readiness of the family for adoption. The caseworker assesses everything he or she can about your lives over about twelve hours of interviews, including: family background, statements, and references; education and employment; relationships and social life; daily routines; parenting experiences; past trauma; details about our home; assessing our readiness and desires for adoption; etc.

Yesterday was our first home study meeting. It didn’t take long to figure out that the most challenging part about the home study isn’t its length (some can take as long as six months depending on the case load of your case worker or the diligence of the adopting family to complete the necessary paper work). The most challenging aspect about a home study is probably the fact that it’s invasive. It’s a deeply personal process meant to prepare you for adoption, that at the same time, forces you to ask why you are pursuing adoption in the first place.

I couldn’t help but wonder if our caseworker thought we were crazy for pursuing adoption. After all, I know that some of the folks reading this blog probably think we are. I remember telling an older lady recently we were adopting. After closing her gaping-wide mouth, she said in disbelief, “Why? You already have a big family.” She’s right. We have four energetic, super-active kids. Our quiver and our lives are full. Super full. Wonderfully full. And not only is our life full, but it’s pretty predictable right now. It’s normal.

It’s the normalcy of our lives that makes the prospect of adoption feel truly crazy. We are willingly exchanging our normal, somewhat predictable lives, for the unknown. Things are going to change in our home; significantly, if not dramatically. I was struck by this reality during our meeting yesterday, as well as in reflection upon a conversation I had with a good friend on the challenges they are facing in adoption. This isn’t a safe choice. Loving? Yes. Sacrificial? Yes. God-honoring? Yes. But certainly not safe. Or predictable. And some of you may not even think it’s rational.

But Emily and I think God wants us to cast off normal for the sake of displaying a tangible, real-life picture of what it means for God the Father to adopt us through faith in the Son Jesus Christ. I know people talk about being “called” to adopt. Frankly, I’m not even sure I know what that means exactly. It’s like when people talk about being “called” to home school. People aren’t called to home school any more than they are “called” to send their kids to public school. They are just doing what they think is best for their children and family in faith before the Father.

I’m not sure that orphan care is as much about “calling” as it is about obedience to God’s Word (James 1:27). Adoption indicates a willingness to be open-handed before the LORD and say, “We will accept whatever opportunities you put in front us to care for orphans and widows. As you give us opportunity, we will obey in the strength that You provide.” We are all “called” to care for orphans. That’s it. Period. There are many practical ways to obey God in the “call” to care for orphans, and adoption is one of them.

The second time I asked our caseworker if she thought we were crazy, she smiled and said, “No. Of course not. You’re not crazy. But don’t ask me that again!” She laughed as she replied. So, I won’t, even on those days that I’m wondering to myself, “Are we crazy?” God’s grace is sufficient for us in our weakness. I know that, but I’m sure we’re going to learn how true that promise is in the days ahead in ways we’ve never experienced before.

Here We Go…

Like most newlyweds, Emily and I got married with big, almost scripted, plans for our future. One such plan involved birthing three kids and then adopting a child of another ethnicity as a tangible expression of our hope in the power of the Gospel to tear down the dividing wall of hostility between people of other races and unite them under the blood and banner of Jesus Christ. As young marrieds with very little life experience behind us to test our theological convictions, we were blissfully unaware of how presumptuous our plans were. I confess that I remember thinking about birth planning as something that we ultimately controlled rather than the Father. This is such a worldly way of thinking, and I’m now ashamed at how little regard I had for God’s plans and ways of working in the world as a newlywed.

Yes, I knew on a theological level that God opened and closed the womb, but frankly, I never considered the possibility that we might not be able to have children. I was never concerned about that possibility. Unlike some of our friends who has suffered through the indignity and grief of infertility, Emily and I have experienced the mercy and gift of birthing children. In fact, conception seemed to come all to easily for our family. Within 6 years we had 4 children! It was almost as if all I had to do was hold Emily’s hand and she would get pregnant (yes, we know it doesn’t work that way).

I am perplexed as to why our journey to parenthood has been so effortless in contrast with some of our friends who have walked a trail of tears through infertility, miscarriage, stillborn births, and agonizingly long waits for their adoptions to be finalized. What I do know is that God is writing our story, and the story of us all, and we can trust him when the journey is smooth and carefree, as well as when it is treacherous and dark.

Josie (child #4) was the big surprise to our plans. Her arrival in our world was such a shock that it put the the idea of adopting on the back burner of our hearts and minds, where it stayed for more about 5 years. But in recent months the Spirit has awakened in us that long flickering desire to adopt.

At the end of last year we rebooted our pursuit of adoption through Lifeline Children’s Services. Several weeks ago we made it official. We sent Lifeline some cold, hard cash. That investment makes the adoption journey all too real. Our home study begins in 2 weeks.

It’s strange and exciting to think that Emily and I have more children somewhere in the world. We think that “somewhere” is probably Costa Rica. And by children we’re saying we’re open to adopting more than 1 child. We’re open to adopting siblings, but that’s not definite. Wow. We might have 6 kids in the near future. That’s crazy. Does that mean we will have to purchase one of those Nissan NV passenger vans?

It’s our hope that you will join us by being a part of our adoption story. We will try to keep this blog updated as we have news.

A side story you might find fun. The other day Josie (5 years old) came into our bedroom and handed her mom $7 dollars. Emily asked her what it was for and she said, “We’re going to need a lot of money to fly on a plane to get our other kids.” What a sweet gesture of faith and generosity. Of course, just a few days later she wanted a little bit of her money back to buy some gum!