World Adoption Day! Now, this is a day to celebrate! But I also know it’s a day that the majority of the world doesn’t understand, especially when they look at families like mine. Sometimes I look at my own family and am in a bit of disbelief.
How did this happen? Look at that. 9 kids! Good Lord! I’ve turned into one of those crazy people that I used to make fun of. And my husband, Shane? What a saint! Seriously! He has dealt with me more times saying, “We are done.” and then coming to him and saying “One more, I just feel it with this one.” I can honestly say he is never necessarily “feeling it” quite like I do in the beginning. All he sees are $$ signs and another 5 years of too many spaghetti meals. Eventually, though, after some divine intervention, he starts to “feel it”. 4 times, exactly, if you count our Ethiopian kids. 5 times if you count our bio kids. I was 18 and he was 21 when I was birthing our first daughter (surprise and surprise wedding). We had four knocked out by the time I was 23 (#4 was a surprise) and the 5th (another surprise) when I was 26. I wouldn’t say we exactly planned things this way but we are from Ky and it’s allowed there, and then we moved to TN and it’s allowed there also. 😉 They were the best surprises of our lives and I would never change a thing. I loved being a young mom.
So back to my question. How did 9 kids happen? I explained how our bio’s came about but how did we end up with 4 children from another culture, another color, speak another language, and 3 of them brought to America as teenagers, two of them in the past year? I used to think families like ours were gluttons for punishment. But now that I’ve walked the journey that it took to bring all of our kids into our home, I see that it is nothing short of a miracle. Truly! Each life, each story behind that life, each step that it took to line all the stars and for God to have our paths cross the way that they have to get us all where we are today is a miracle!
I’m not one that grew up always dreaming of adoption. I actually never thought about it. I thought that it was something that people did when they could not have biological children themselves. That all changed one night when we went to a Christmas party. We walked in and saw a Chinese little girl, that looked about the age of 4, running around, laughing, and dancing. Our friends told us they adopted her. The first word out of my mouth was, “Why?” They had bio kids about the same ages as mine. It puzzled me as to why they would want to adopt a child. One of them looked at me and said, “Why not? We have room in our home and room in our heart.” They went on to explain how their daughter had been found abandoned, left on a doorstep of a building, and someone found her and took her to the orphanage where she remained until their family stepped into her life and said, “Why not?”
That whole scene was like a big set up by God. It was a seed that was planted that really made me start to think. “Hmmm, why not?” After that, it was like suddenly seeing pregnant people everywhere after you find out you are pregnant. Everywhere I went I saw mixed-race families with adopted children… in the grocery, mall, everywhere! And then the kicker was when we went to a Steven Curtis Chapman concert and his beautiful, Chinese daughter ran out on the stage and leaped into his arms as they were playing a video with a song he had written for her. Puddles! All the feels! God was definitely working in my heart.
But honestly, it was Oprah that finally did it! Yes, Oprah. Shane and I were watching a prime-time special on Oprah in Africa. She was walking around with orphaned children and I was glued to the tv. I couldn’t believe the poverty, the dirt, and all of the hungry children trying to survive in this third world country. Had I really never paid attention to this before? When the show was over, my husband turned off the tv as tears were streaming down my face. It was as if it was the first time I had seen such a harsh reality. He looked at me and said, “How can we just turn off the tv, go about our lives, and pretend things like this don’t exist in the world?” It was at that moment we decided to step out of our comfort zone, take a giant leap of faith, and adopt a child. We knew we wanted to help a child that didn’t have the resources that American children have and we were being pulled internationally.
Even though Oprah is what finally broke the rest of my heart for adoption, we struggled with what it would be like if we adopted a black child into a white family. We finally talked ourselves into the fact that it would be too hard for one black child to live in a home with 7 white people so we found the perfect country to adopt from. All white Ukraine. I had my heart set on a 2-year-old little girl from the Ukraine that would fit in perfectly with our family and look like all the rest of my kids. Wow! Was I wrong!
FOUR YEARS is about how long it took for God to work the ridiculous idea that “a black child wouldn’t fit into our family” right out of our heads. Our 2-year-old little Ukraine, white girl turned into a 4-year-old, Ethiopian, black boy that came into our lives and changed our hearts forever. As soon as we turned in our paperwork to adopt from Ukraine, the entire country shut it’s doors to adoption. We waited two years for it to open back up before we got so frustrated with waiting that we switched to another country. What we didn’t realize at that time was during those two years that we waited for Ukraine to open it’s doors to adoption, was the same two years our future son from Ethiopia was living with his birth mom.
Funny how a season of waiting for something can strip you of things you once thought were important. I believe God knew exactly what He was doing. Right when we were in the middle of tears and frustration and looking for another country to switch to, I received a random phone call from a lady I had never talked to before. She asked me if I had ever thought about adopting from Africa. She was headed there the next day. The first thing I thought of was that moment I was sitting on my bed bawling after I watched the Oprah special. Suddenly I didn’t care about color anymore. I just wanted to give love to a child that needed a family. I told her, “Yes, let us know who you find in Africa.” She called me immediately the next day with news.
She found a little boy in Nigeria that I had the privilege of naming Daniel. “I saw this little baby and I immediately thought of your family for him.”, she said. So Daniel must have been the one for our family all along….or was he? It was now year three and we switched our paperwork from Ukraine to Nigeria in order to adopt him. What we didn’t know at that time was that this little boy that we had grown to love from afar for about a year, while we waited for paperwork to go through, was destined to NOT be our son. He was actually the child that God used to wrap our hearts and minds around the idea of a little boy in Africa but Daniel was not who we were supposed to adopt. Nigeria changed it’s country rules and came out with a new law that stated you had to live with the child in his own country for 5 months before you would be allowed to adopt him. Devastated, that was the end of that dream to adopt Daniel, and through many tears, we were back to square one again…or so we thought. What we didn’t realize was when I received that random phone call asking if I had “ever thought about adopting from Africa”, our future son wasn’t in Nigeria. He was in Ethiopia and he had just been placed in the orphanage that very month that I received that phone call. God used Daniel to turn our hearts toward the idea of adopting a son from Africa. This whole time we were being prepared for what was to come and didn’t know it.
By that time we were going into year four of trying to adopt a child. I was ready to give up. I kept questioning God. I kept asking, “Did we not hear you correctly? Are we not supposed to adopt? Why would this be so hard?” My sister sent me a random youtube video that she found on the internet. She said it showed a woman going to Ethiopia to pick up her son from an orphanage. She told me I needed to watch it. I was just so over it at this point. I really didn’t want to watch it but she was insistent. I turned it on and sat there waiting for it to start, wondering why in the world am I about to torture myself by watching another woman find joy in going to pick up her child in an orphanage when nothing is working for me. But when the video started I couldn’t believe it. I knew the woman that was walking into that orphanage to pick up her son. Her name was Tracy. She was from Nashville and I had spoken at her church and shared my testimony before. I watched the whole video. I briefly felt a twinge of inspiration again, and called her and asked her if she would mind coming to my home to tell me about the Ethiopia adoption process. She came. We found a glimmer of hope again and said, “Ok, God, one more time. Just one more time we will try this again.” And I’m so glad we did.
It only took 5 months from the time we switched our paperwork from Nigeria to Ethiopia until our son was in our arms. By that time, our son, who had been paired for a year to be adopted jointly with his 14-year-old sister, was now needing a home by himself. His sister had always remained with his deaf, birth mother, while he lived in the orphanage for a year by himself. Because she was 14 and it was hard to place a 14-year-old at that time, it was holding up his process as well. The agency decided to send him on without his sister. By the time they determined this and made him adoptable by himself, was the same time they received our paperwork on their desk requesting a little boy between the age of 3-5. All the stars had finally just aligned and there was that moment that God’s plan finally fell into place with ours. I don’t know if Nathan was finally ready for us, or if we were finally ready for him, but I know that God lined it up perfectly for all of us. We were all ready for each other at that perfect time,,, and all of our lives were about to change.
We walked into that orphanage on that long-awaited day in Ethiopia and we waited for the last time. The gates opened and in walked a four-year-old little boy holding the hand of our translator.
He looked up at us with big, curious eyes, and he didn’t even flinch. He was brave and he let strange looking white people hug him as we pointed to ourselves and said, “Mama, Daddy” in a language what was not his.
His shirt had a hole in it. His pants stopped in the middle of his shin. And his shoes had been worn clear through the bottom. He may have looked like an orphan at that moment, but he gave us that little smile, grabbed our hands in such a way that he was telling us this is what he had been waiting for as well, and we left that orphanage with a son, not an orphan.
It was the day that God kept his promise to Nathan, “I will not leave you as orphans.” And it was the day he kept his promise to us. He gave us a vision but sometimes it was hard to see. Habakkuk 2:3 states, This vision is for a future time. It describes the end, and it will be fulfilled. If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed.
We waited. Sometimes patiently, sometimes not. But God is faithful! We received a great gift. Nathanael actually means “Gift from God.” This should be the end of the story, but I now marvel at how it was only the beginning. The beginning of a great adventure, a calling, a privilege to be used in great ways, and in ways that I couldn’t even make up if I tried. Nathan was our 6th child. He was the gateway to a great call God had placed on our lives. We brought him home but I was left with a picture in my mind of all the children waving goodbye to Nathan as he left the orphanage that day. As we drove away they got smaller and smaller in the distance until I couldn’t see them anymore. Their faces stayed with me all the way back to America. It was like I was watching the Oprah show all over again. Could I really just turn the TV off, go about my life, and pretend as if those children don’t exist in this world?
To be continued….
Nathan today as he walked me out on the football field for his 8th grade recognition day.
Nathan travels back to Ethiopia to meet his sister (in a future post).