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.