When I was fifteen years old, I was told I had a condition which would make pregnancy difficult and unlikely. At the time, I simply made peace with it. Adoption is a beautiful thing, there are literally millions of children in the world who need and want parents– I wasn’t losing by adopting a child. I came into my marriage with that mentality and by God’s design, Tyler has always fully agreed with that perspective.
When it came time to start thinking about a family, we went straight to the adoption route. The way we explained it at the time was this: We don’t want our adoption to be seen as simply a “last resort.” It is something we want, something we’re excited about, and we don’t feel the need to exhaust all other options before pursuing it. I still stand by that sentiment, although our circumstances have changed quite a bit since then.
Years ago when we began this process, we had to take a class through the government which would equip us to parent kids from the foster care system well. It was scary, it was hard, it was heartbreaking, and it was eye-opening. We came home every night after class and stared at each other in awe, wondering if we could actually handle what would be thrown at us (spoiler alert: you can’t. But God can). The most enlightening thing, I think, was realizing the generational nature of much of these struggles. The kids in foster care are often born to children of abuse, neglect, addiction, and foster care. And so it goes. It is a complex issue which points to the need for a Redeemer at every turn. Only Jesus.
Fast forward to a few nights ago. We’d seen an advertisement on Facebook for an informational session plus an event called “Youth Speak Out,” featuring a panel of young people who’d grown up in the system sharing their experiences. We jumped at it. We knew that starting the moment I graduate from Moody we hoped to go down this road (it is on my list, after all!). The passion we have for caring for kids in need has never dissipated, it just looks different. The reality is, we have a biological child now. My heart has been heavy with thoughts and questions about this for a while now. What does bringing a child (or several) with special needs into our family look like for Bethany? What about the fact that she can’t weigh in? Is it good to start this while she’s too young to know any different or should we wait until she can understand and say yes? Will she miss out on a certain type of family experience because of our choices and resent it later? Now that I have a bio kid and I understand the unbelievable depth of love I feel for her, will I be able to love another child as my own? Are these questions even okay to ask? Am I a bad person for asking them?
With all of this rattling around in my mind, we showed up that evening. We were greeted incredibly warmly and sat through the info session, most of which we knew from our previous experience with this. But when those three young adults sat down to talk to those of us gathered there, that was when it began. Prompted by a facilitator, they told their stories. I wish I could detail every word said by each of them, but it wouldn’t be the same. The only man on the panel had the story that stuck out to me most. Born to a mother sick with addiction and placed in care at 8 months old, he bounced from home to group home to home – so many places he couldn’t tell us exactly how many he’d had. His anger issues made it difficult for him to stay in one place long. At 19 years old he was in independent living (the government pays rent for kids in care once they are a certain age to help them get on their feet) smoking weed and playing video games and simply existing, as he put it. He explained that when you’re in the system, you just exist. There are no expectations on your life, there’s little you’re able or equipped to do, and you’ve only ever known a certain lifestyle. Do the math. One night he spoke on a panel much like the one we were sitting through. Afterward, his social worker said a family wanted to meet him. Months later, they formally adopted him and he became part of a family. He explained through tears what this had meant to him. A mom to snuggle with who told him every day that his behaviour was not who he was until he began to believe it. A dad who would come to his aid when he had car trouble on the highway and show him what hard work was. Brothers to show him what it meant to be a family. I held back actual sobs as I listened, thinking to myself – this is the gospel.
What has God done for us if it is not this? Born to a world too sick to care for us, we are alone and hopeless, looking for a way to belong… to know that we are worth something. Jesus comes and says, “you belong with me, and with my Father.” We are adopted as sons (Romans 8:15) and made part of the family of God. He gives us a name, a new identity, comfort, help when we need it, freedom from our past, new purpose, and a new story to replace the one of brokenness we come from. Most of all: hope.
Apart from all the practical and logistical questions I have, I felt God whisper to me, this is my gospel. You don’t need my permission to do this. I’ve already asked you to care for the orphans and the widows, to love the unlovely and the poor and the needy in my name.
We don’t know what the next steps look like over the coming months. We don’t know how this will pan out. But, I know that God holds those answers. What I know right now, and perhaps what matters more than anything else, is that God will always provide and be faithful when we follow him into hard, unknown places. I know that loving children in the name of Christ, giving them a home, giving them a family, even if it is temporal, matters.
That young man knows Jesus now. He is pursuing social work as a career. He smiled and laughed and pointed to his family, who were all there to support him. When the evening was over, I overheard his dad hug him and say, “I’m so proud of you, son,” and he responded, “Thanks, Dad.” He explained to us that what kids want more than anything is to know that they are loved. To be told that what they do and how they act does not define them and does not change the love you have for them. He told us (in fact all three of them did) that no matter what your birth parents had done or not done, you never stop wanting your mom. You never stop needing her. At 19 years old he was adopted, and all he wanted to do was sit on the couch and be held by his mom. I was struck with the powerful position God has put us in as women, nurturers, caregivers, mothers. Mother is a powerful figure in a child’s life – offer unconditional love, offer comfort, offer cookies, offer home, offer faith.
As believers, we have benefited from the gospel of Christ. We have been given what we didn’t deserve and couldn’t earn. Our task is to give that gospel away to others– to love God with our heart, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbours as ourselves. To care for the orphan and the widow, to visit the sick, to give to the needy. To make disciples. For us, this is going to look like foster care. God made me a mother, and now he is teaching me that that title carries a lot more weight and responsibility than I originally thought. He didn’t just give me the gift of pregnancy and birth, he opened a door in my heart so that I could follow him through it and into new places where only his love can be sufficient.
We will never be ready, but we are ready.