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WORDS

November 10, 2010 |

Our Referral Story…

BY Jen Hatmaker

During the first week of October, I suffered inexplicable sadness for our Ethiopian kids, yet unknown to us. I couldn’t quit crying. I couldn’t stop worrying. I felt heavy and dark without knowing why. With tears burning at the slightest provocation, I threw my emotions into the Facebook ring for some backup. From adopting friends, a common thread rose up:

“God is prompting you to pray for your children for some reason. You don’t know them yet, but he knows they are yours. Intercede for them this week, then write these dates down. Once you receive your referral, check their paperwork and you might discover divine timing.” A slew of similar stories were posted.

So Brandon and I prayed desperately for our kids. Were they losing a parent? Were they suffering? Were they tender and lonely? Were they feeling hopeless? Their need was unknown, but the ache was acute. So I cried the tears I just knew they were crying, and I begged Jesus to be so near, so gentle in their young lives while they waited for a family.

Sensitive to their fragility, I spent that week checking (obsessing over) the Waiting Children’s List on our adoption agency’s website. I’ve been drawn to these kids since the beginning of our adoption journey. These children have not been requested or matched, unwanted even within the adoption community. Their crimes: 1.) Too old – meaning over five, 2.) too sick – HIV, TB, birth defects, or 3.) too many – siblings.

This very week a new little face hit the WCL: a darling, bright and shiny seven-year-old boy. I instantly loved his personality. He looked like Gavin in an African way. He seemed ornery, which I adore. So I pulled him up every day. Every day. Every day. I sent the link to Brandon. I sent the link to friends. I checked back in. I watched other WCL kids move from “available” to “file under review” while his smiling face remained “available.” On a Wednesday, I sent this to our family coordinator:

Hi Caitlin!

Sweet adorable Beniam is a healthy seven-year old on the WCL. He totally falls within our request range and since he’s on there, I’m assuming there are no other requests for a seven-year-old boy. Would AWAA consider placing him with an unrelated younger girl and allowing us to consider them together?

We were exactly hoping for a seven-year-old boy and a younger girl. We would be so happy to apply for unrelated kiddos if this was a possibility.

Thoughts?

Jen Hatmaker

For a week, we emailed back and forth about unrelated kids (sweet, precious Caitlin – extra jewels in her crown for fielding my relentless emails). I cannot explain how drawn to Ben we were. Every time we looked at him, he became more beautiful, more precious, more Hatmaker-ish. Our social worker needed to approve us for an unrelated placement, as we were only approved for siblings. That, friends, sounded like a formality, so we got our ducks in a row to speed that process up.

Exactly one week after that email, my phone rang the following Wednesday with that heart-attack-inducing-breath-stealing caller ID: “AWAA – Caitlin”. Adopting parents with submitted dossiers wait for that with such anxiety and anticipation, that should we be on a conference call with the President of the United States, we would scream in his ear, “I GOTTA GO!!!!!” and click over. Parents call their agencies ten billion times; they call us never, but when they do, this is what they say:

“Jen? It’s Caitlin. Sit down…this is your referral call.”

The world stopped spinning.

Time froze.

Nothing else existed.

“SHUT UP!!!” is how I responded as a mature, emotionally controlled girl. Our dossier was submitted 48 days ago; this referral was fast. I couldn’t think straight. The referral call includes sitting at your computer while your family coordinator introduces your child with the highly anticipated email file, including pictures.

I told Caitlin I’d call her back in ten minutes, because I needed to get Brandon home. Ring-ring:

“Are you stalking me? I just left! You know you can’t live without me.”

“Brandon, zip it! We. Just. Got. Our. Referral. Call.”

(Insert screeching brakes.)

We called Caitlin back and discovered our referral was one gorgeous, unbelievably perfect five-year-old girl. She was beautiful in every way. Brandon fell especially hard. With her little chicklet teeth and her shy smile, it seemed we might finally get a “gentle child,” which required adoption since our gene pool squashed that characteristic.

But besides “adopting” and “Ethiopia,” the other crystal clear detail was “two children.” Back in December when adopting from Ethiopia was imminent, Brandon kept bringing up two kids. Normally the bleeding heart, I was reluctant (could also be: defiant, obstinate, terrified) to consider two, knowing we are already a circus and doubting my ability to parent five kids. But Brandon couldn’t shake it, so we spent a week praying and fasting about one versus two.

On the final day of our fast, unknown to anyone but us, one of my dearest friends called: “Jen? I’ve been praying about your adoption. If this is irrelevant, just forget it, but every time I pray, I get the feeling you and Brandon are considering siblings…”

*Jen stops breathing*

“…I don’t know why I keep getting this message. But if you are, we’ve prayed about it, and we want to pay for the second child. Whatever the cost increase is for adopting two instead of one, we’ll cover the entire amount.”

*Jen bawls eyes out.*

God? We’re fasting to hear from you: One or two kids?

Insert: The Most Obvious Answer Ever Received In Our Lives.

Without question, we knew God had two kids for us, so this referral for just one was terribly confusing. We were starved for clarity, staring at each other like one of us had an explanation, the key to unlocking this baffling development. Do we accept it? Do we wait? Our strategy has been, “Go back to what you know for sure. What was the last thing you heard?” The marching orders for two children was iron-clad, so I went three weeks back to those dark days full of prayer and sorrow. I confirmed the dates then searched this beautiful girl’s file:

It was the week she was brought to the orphanage.

Shipped twelve hours north of her village, her people, everything she knew to a crowded orphanage with children and workers who spoke a different language, it must’ve been devastating. She must’ve felt so alone. At age five. Except Jesus never leaves his little ones, his most vulnerable. He was there in the scary van ride north. He was there in her confusion and fear. He was there as she was assigned a bed and communal clothes and had her beautiful head shaved. He was there that first heart-breaking night. And he made sure we were there in spirit, too.

I am telling you, we felt her grief. We carried her turmoil. We cried her tears. Jesus made sure we sat watch with Him over her. He invited us into the vigil he was keeping on her behalf. Exactly three weeks after her first lonely night in the orphanage, we got her referral.

She was ours. We knew it.

She was the “younger unrelated girl” we asked for when pursuing Ben. It all locked into place. Within hours of the call, we asked for him too. For four agonizing days, we fought for his referral, this bright, shiny boy who’d seen hundreds of babies and toddlers come and go. For four days, we pleaded our case against staunch resistance (our social worker never approved unrelated double placements; only biological siblings). For four days, prayers and emails and calls flooded in, as our Christian community rallied for this boy.

Enter The Great Silence, Compline, the prayer of completion. Every Sunday night at 9pm, the parents adopting through our agency join in prayer all over the world. We pray for our children, the nannies, our paperwork, referrals, court dates, traveling mercies, approvals, and grace. I told my adoption community: “Please pray for our expanded referral. We want this boy so desperately, but it feels impossible.”

We were hanging on by a thread. We knew God said adopt two children from Ethiopia. We knew he connected us in prayer to our daughter’s traumatic abandonment. We knew he imprinted Ben on our hearts already, before we even had a referral. We knew these two children were ours, but the approval looked hopeless.

From nearly every state and several other countries, we prayed at 9pm, the hour of The Great Silence. We interceded for each other and begged God to move for the orphan. We voiced our impossible circumstances and trusted him to work the common, everyday miracles that surround adoption. We acknowledged his sovereignty over bureaucracy, embassies, social workers, and poverty. We prayed for completion: Our children home. Hesitantly, timidly, I said, “I trust you, God.” At 9:27pm, our social worker sent this:

“I am going to approve this referral.”

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The first day we got their pictures.

No words can describe the rejoicing in our house, and certainly in the heavens. Another son coming home, despite the odds, regardless of “the rules.” Yet again, God moved mountains for his kids. The day our Ethiopian children were born, the angels celebrated their immense value, the image of God they each bear. Their circumstances didn’t lessen their worth but raised them to the highest level of divine attention:

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy.
I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
God sets the lonely in families.
Blessed are you who are poor, for your is the kingdom of God.
Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death.

We’ve been invited into a beautiful story, involving hundreds of saints in prayer for two treasures. God captured an entire community with love for two children whose names we’d never even heard.

I want you to know their names.

Our Beniam is seven, and we’ll call him Ben; the son we fought for. Our daughter’s name is Matawi, which means “Remembrance.” We will call her Remy, because she was never forgotten; not by her Creator, not by her Savior, and not by us. God walked with our children through every sorrow; their plight was ever before him. God never forgot, never slept, never stopped working until his children were restored.

He remembered them.

For the LORD comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones. But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.” Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.

See, I will beckon to the nations, I will lift up my banner to the peoples; they will bring your sons in their arms and carry your daughters on their hips. Kings will be your foster fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers…Then you will know that I am the LORD; those who hope in me will not be disappointed.

Can plunder be taken from warriors, or captives be rescued from the fierce? But this is what the LORD says: “Yes, captives will be taken from warriors, and plunder retrieved from the fierce; I will contend with those who contend with you, and your children I will save.”

~Isaiah 49