But no words.
Contain your shock. It won’t last. It’s some sort of temporary disorder, as I’ve never been short on words since the day some woman handed my mom the book, “Parenting the Strong-Willed Child” when I was two-years-old.
But the things I have to say are so deep and personal, so profound and overwhelming and constant, I’ve not been able to wrestle one thought to the ground long enough to write about it. My heart is Purgatory and these ideas are all stuck there, somewhere between the actual seconds they happened and the coherent, developed, processed account of them later. I’m riding the fence between wrangling deep, life-changing observations out of this season and – let’s just be real – surviving until the next hour.
So I’m lassoing one idea that keeps circulating through my thoughts in between fetching Remy her thirty-eighth granola bar of the day and bribing her to bed with the promise of Chick-Fil-A fries. (My No-Compromise Organic Food Plan is shoved in the corner, beaten down and bloody, looking at me with eyes that clearly communicate: “Really? Flax seed over Cheezits? And you thought that dog would hunt? Idiot.)
This adoption has been a long journey for us, with lots of unexpected turns. To be sure, other families have endured much longer, much worse. Different countries have programs that run upwards of ten years. Other parents have lost savings accounts, friends, years, referrals, children. We’ve read stories that absolutely drained the blood from our faces.
So ours is certainly not the worst story, but it is ours, and it’s the only one we have to tell.
As I look back over the last year and a half, I see a rhythm between God, our leader, and us, his clueless followers. The tune changed as the story unfolded, but the rhythm stayed the same.
It started after God made it *crystal clear* that we were to adopt two children. We applied for two kids. We got approved for two kids. We planned for two kids. We prepared our bio children for two kids. We told everyone we were adopting two kids.
And then we got our referral. For one girl.
Yes, this girl was beautiful. Yes, she was the perfect age for our family. Yes, we died over her shy smile (that was a clear fake out). Yes, her story broke our hearts and reminded us why we decided to adopt older children in the first place.
But where was our second child?? We were positive about this one. We couldn’t have missed God’s leadership on the two-kid agenda; it was one of those ridiculously clear moments where you either respond obediently or prepare to be immediately struck with cholera.
So this rhythm emerged:
“God, we’re confused.”
And he answered, “I’m not done yet.”
As we begged for clarity and tried to decide if we should reject this referral out of sheer blind obedience, God nudged us toward the same darling boy we’d been eyeing on the Waiting Children’s List. The one I had emailed our family coordinator about three times. The one she told me we’d have to get special approval for. The one with the 1000-watt smile, on a waiting list for his crime of being 7 years-old.
God reminded us, “Yes I said two, but I never said they’d be related. Go fight for that boy.” Well, listen lambs, God doesn’t tell me to fight for something lightly. Do I need to reference “The Strong Willed Child” observation again? Fight? Oh, I’ll fight alright. What? I need to explain in writing why this placement makes sense for our family? A FIGHT WITH WORDS?? Bless the poor receiver of the footnoted dissertation I sent. And the phone calls I made. And the passionate plea (harassment) I unleashed. And just like that, we got our boy.
So three cheers! God really had a plan; an unconventional plan that required a half-crazed Mama who would enter the ring and use words and persuasion to win a referral. (My little eye spies some typecasting.) We had not one but two kids after all! And they happened to be the two cutest kids in the whole country, which we considered our prize for actually completing the 700,000 page dossier, which – let’s get serious – was spearheaded by moi, and if you remember my bent toward details, well, this is really something noteworthy and please act impressed because (allegedly) I cannot remember to put gas in my car, yet I pulled off a completed dossier in three months including multiple check lists and a 50-pound page-protected binder that I would’ve rescued from a burning house before my three children.
Fast forward to March 10th, that blessed court date. Now understand that I had already informed God that I didn’t want to be “one of those families.” The sad, sorry folks who didn’t pass and had all the troubles and waded through messy bureaucratic drivel and watched as everyone else passed them like they were going in reverse. The ones that clogged up the Facebook feed with bad news and had to answer the same questions twenty times a day about any movement? and who seemed like they had lost the will to live.
I mean, I thought I had made that clear.
So when Remy passed that very day like she was just taking a leisurely stroll through Central Park on holiday – exactly how I told God to work it out – we were devastated when Ben didn’t pass. Devastated. And the rhythm repeated:
“God, we’re confused.”
“I’m not done yet.”
We’d seen other families who didn’t pass court get their clearance within a week or two, so we naturally assumed our happy phone call was coming any day now. Remy was submitted for Embassy. Any day now. One month. Any day now. The court asked for additional documents on Ben. Any day now. Remy was cleared for travel in April. Any day now. We turned in some other official decrees. Any day now. Two months. Any day now. Three months. Please, God. Please. Any day now. “It doesn’t look good for this case.” Any day now. Crying, begging, pleading, cursing. Any day now. Four months. No. No.
“God, we’re confused.”
“I’m not done yet.”
Let me be fair: When I recount our line as “God, we’re confused,” that sounds tame, almost like a little old grandma who got lost at the corner of 5th and Lamar until a kindly police officer asked if he could help her and she chuckled and shook her head and said, “Well I guess I got a little confused!” and they shared a knowing laugh about who can figure out all these confounded streets down here? and he pointed her west and she made it to her destination just in time for the quilting guild.
When we said “we’re confused”, it involved crying and wailing and days when I couldn’t get out of bed. It included a string of months where, I swear to you, time stood still. I sobbed over other people’s happy adoption news as I typed nice words on their Facebook pages. It included a phone call from my mother-in-law after my daughter told her, “I’m worried about my mom.” My hair started falling out in clumps and my fingernails peeled off in layers. I lashed out at Brandon and my kids and Jesus on bad days; on worse days, I wondered aloud if God had any control at all over this chaotic, broken world. I doubted his invervention and questioned his sovereignty.
So yeah, that’s what I mean by “confused.”
And then we got this: “We’re getting a rejection letter for Beniam’s adoption, and we think you should consider coming to get Remy.” No. No. How could this possibly be our situation? How? We were the compassionate mother who refused to split the baby in half even if it meant separation from us. How could we go back to Ethiopia and fly away with just one of them? How could we break our son’s heart like that? How could God possibly be in this? Is he just mean? Has he forgotten us? Has he forgotten Ben? This is not the story we signed on for. This chapter stinks. I’m starting to hate this book.
“God, we’re confused.”
“I’m not done yet.”
In the dead of night as I sobbed into my pillow, begging God to comfort our son as we prepared to travel for Remy, he delivered “Love Ben” fully developed into my mind. And if you’re the believing type who buys the “God works all things for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose” stuff, then you might not be surprised to hear that we witnessed hundreds of moments of glory through Love Ben.
Like the 80-year-old outspoken racist who set his alarm for 1:00am to pray for Beniam at the start of the Ethiopian work day.
Like the multiple emails I got from adopted adults who were prompted to reconcile with birth parents, deal with decades-old wounds, and find peace.
Like the birth mother whose heart God healed after giving up her son 17 years ago.
Like the entire church who highlighted Ben’s story and set up a Love Ben Photo Booth after both services.
Like the college friend who told me she was praying again for the first time in 20 years.
Like the bundles of you who emailed to say you’ve decided to adopt.
Like the mamas and daddies who taught their children about orphans and God’s mercy and used Ben’s little face as a tangible tool.
Please believe me, these could go on and on. Rays of God’s light kept bursting through the dark. Just when I though my heart would expire, I’d get an email that said, “I told Ben’s story at the camp we’re running for foster kids, and they broke out in spontaneous prayer and singing for God to rescue him.”
Evidently God can wrestle glory out of the hard parts of the story.
Ben passed court the week before we traveled to get Remy, but our agency prepared us for egregious delays and possible litigation at the Embassy stage because of his rejection letter (I assure you, this had nothing to do with his orphan status). So Brandon and I prepared for a fight. We threw down fighting words. We said stuff like, “What happens in fight club stays in fight club!” We kicked some chairs over and threw gang signs. We were all, “WHATEVER, HATERS! You messed with the wrong peeps!” It was all super aggressive with loads of swagger.
Then we flew to Ethiopia. And held our son while he threw up and sobbed in our laps and clung to our necks, as we drove away with Remy, his only family on the same continent. And all the bravado disappeared into sorrow. I cried for 24 hours without stopping.
“We’re so confused, God.”
“I’m not done yet.”
Are you sure, God? Because I’m pretty convinced all our hearts are broken. Is there work left to be done? Is there something we can’t see? Would you please just assure us that you haven’t forgotten Ben and our family? Can we trust you to make this beautiful? Because it doesn’t feel beautiful. It feels aching and devastating and horribly unjust. We believe you but we can’t see.
But let it be said that God is still in the miracle business. As our agency prepared to submit Ben for Embassy, they were asked to try to secure his approval letter one last time, attempting to avoid the cluster ahead of us without it. Just as a courtesy, our agency went back to the government office, the same one who refused to write the letter for five months, in an effort I dubbed “the biggest waste of time on planet earth.” They’d made their position clear on Ben’s case, and had already died on this hill if you will. So whatever. Thanks for this great idea, Embassy. Maybe they can suck another five months of our lives away.
They wrote it.
SHUT UP. Yes they did. They wrote it on a Thursday, and Ben was submitted for Embassy the very next day. With all his paperwork intact. Every last piece of paper. They cleared him for travel four business days later on Thursday, and Brandon got on a plane three days later. Last Sunday.
When God said he wasn’t done yet, he just wasn’t done yet. He wasn’t speaking in code. It wasn’t a trick. The story was still in the middle, but I wanted to flip ahead to the end, past the conflict and struggle and straight to the happy ending. As Keeper of the Story, God knew the whole plot. He promised us way back that he planned on seeing these two children all they way from brokenness and abandonment to our home in Texas, an unlikely journey if ever there was one. And at the risk of whitewashing the difficult middle, we have one of them here and the other will be here Sunday, so he was faithful.
God doesn’t promise us a clean middle part of the story. He never said we wouldn’t encounter antagonists and drama and surprise twists and heartbreak. We weren’t assured a G-rated plot where good feelings are peddled and no one dies or leaves or fails or waits. God promised things like healing and restoration and redemption. Which implies there will be injuries and broken relationships and losses. When he speaks of beauty from ashes, he seems to know there will be actual ashes to resurrect beauty from.
If you are confused right now, if your story isn’t going the way you thought, or if you’re tangled up in the messy middle where hope is deferred, dear reader, it could just be that God isn’t done yet. Your story is not finished. Every hero and heroine must wade through the conflict to get to the end, and you can trust God because he is good. If you have nothing else to cling to, remember this: God is good. He loves goodness and justice. He heals and redeems. He is on the side of love and beauty. He is for you. He is never against you. You may be against you, other people may be against you, but God is not against you.
It is okay to be confused; I’m afraid that is our lot as finite creatures dealing with an infinite God. Some of God’s best heros were confused in their subplots. But I can see a light that is coming for the heart that holds on. Because God is good and he is for goodness.
And he just isn’t done yet.