This morning, I packed up my toddlers and went to moms’ group. We meet twice a month for coffee and snacks while we share about our lives and discuss that day’s topic from a Biblical perspective. We have ice breakers, which are usually pretty light and fun. Once it was, “What was the worst Christmas gift you ever received?” Another time it was, “How many kids did you think you’d have when you were younger?” We laugh together about memories from childhood and share antics about our families. Today, though. Today.
Today there were three questions:
1) What is something good that has happened this week? Easy one. I didn’t have to dig too deeply for this one. Caston had a follow up with the ENT, and his ears looked great after his second surgery for ear tubes. It was one of the only times since we adopted him 10 months ago that we’ve had that good news.
2) What is something bad that has happened this week? I liked this one too because I could stay “on the surface” so to speak. I mentioned that it had just been a really busy week. Our mornings had been filled with therapies and doctors’ appointments, and our evenings had been equally busy. The older three are all in sports now, so our nights are pretty hectic. We hadn’t had much time to connect as a family.
3) What has God been saying to you this week? I felt my chest tighten and right then, I wanted to fake a poopy diaper emergency and make a quick exit. But even if I could have avoided saying this in front of my friends, God knows my heart. He knows that even though my response sounds like a broken record to so many, it is what He speaks to me every day without fail. Orphans. Do something.
I knew while we were in China for our first adoption, we would be back. God wrote their names on my heart, burned their faces into my memory…all the ones left behind. It was no surprise to anyone when we announced our second adoption. Our “surprise” baby, for we had no intentions of having five children. But God had other plans.
Although I missed China fiercely after we returned from our second adoption trip, I felt very much in over my head in terms of motherhood. The thought of another was simply out of the question for us. I was so hell bent on proving to everyone that I could handle these five. Y’all, I packed up myself, my daughters, and two jet lagged toddlers less that 48 hours after getting home from China to attend our oldest son’s baseball game. It was the disaster you could have imagined. The girls were fighting, and the boys were crying. For five of us still on China time, it was 2:00 am. We needed so much stuff to get us through a two hour baseball game that I couldn’t even make a quick exit when the whole crew spiraled out of control. There was food everywhere, toys everywhere, multiple blankets and cups strewn everywhere. Worst. Decision. Ever. It took me a while to get a grip on what was manageable for me on any given day as a mom of five.
The following months did not mimic our return home with Caleb. It was relatively easy adding a fourth child. But this time? We had added another toddler, only 9.5 months younger than Caleb. Caston came to us with a host of issues: feeding difficulties, sensory issues, no language, a heart defect, chronic ear issues. We were at the doctor constantly. Life was hard. Most days, my end goal was keeping them all alive, fed, and loved. I posted this in one of my adoption groups on Facebook in July 2016. “I can say that right now I feel done. I am drowning in children, dishes, and laundry. I think five kids is my limit.”
A couple of months ago, that old familiar pang of sadness began to return. Despite the endless laundry, the messy house, the constant ache in my back, the loudness of our kids, the never ending doctors’ appointments, the sadness returned. The instant tears when I saw pictures on Facebook of China, when I smelled food being cooked in an Asian restaurant. It didn’t even have to be quite so obvious either. Hearing someone on tv with an Irish accent took me back to a pub in Nanjing, one of the first places we went to eat after we adopted Caston. Pizza. Pizza of all things! Braden would say, “This is good, but that Hawaiian pizza in China was the BEST!”
God began again with whispers. And when I blocked out his whispers with my arguments of being too busy, too tired, too stressed, he stopped whispering. Instead, he let others do the speaking. He let them speak to me through song, or through sermon, or through books that were never intended to be specifically about adoption.
A few months ago, I ordered a book by Jennie Allen called Nothing to Prove. I honestly didn’t have the time to read it. I only ordered it because I planned on attending her event at our church, her Nothing to Prove book tour. In fact, I cancelled the order, knowing that I wouldn’t carve out a time to read it. Then I wavered, feeling guilty that I should at least know something about the book if I planned on attending the event. Plus, I wanted her to sign it. So, I reordered the book. A few days before the event, I begrudgingly picked it up, planning to skim it as quick as humanly possible. And wouldn’t you know? There on page 8, God began speaking to me through a book I didn’t intend to read. Four times on a two page span, the phrase “living water” appeared. The name of Caston’s foster home in China.
Last weekend at church, the sermon was on faith decisions and how our decisions made in faith affect generations and generations to come. I couldn’t help but think about how adoption has affected all of our children, biological and adopted, and how our faith decisions would affect the lives of our children’s children’s children. Jason Lantz told us that faith decisions are not the same as natural decisions, those that can be made with a list of pros and cons. Faith decisions are supernatural decisions. These are the ones where GOD is speaking to you. You know that you know that you know that God is asking you to do something in obedience to Him, even when you can’t see how it’s all gonna work out.
Fortunately (?) I only caught bits and pieces of the sermon because I was paged out of church for two crying toddlers. Really, they spared everyone in church from seeing me ugly cry. I am secretly thankful. When we left church, Kevin said, “I know EXACTLY what you were thinking about during church!” And I knew what he meant on Monday when I was able to watch it all online.
This morning, the sermon was on my mind. Adoption was on my mind, as it is most of the day, every day. It’s not that my family is not enough. It’s not that my husband is not enough. It’s not that our children are not enough. It’s actually quite the opposite. It’s actually that they are SO MUCH that I can’t imagine how we go on without sharing ourselves with another child. But that’s not even the biggest part. The blessings we have received through adoption far exceed any cost to us. We are so far from being a perfect family. So very far. We argue. We get on each other’s nerves. We get our feelings hurt. We sometimes speak kinder to strangers than to those in our home. And we forgive. And we love. And we support. And we encourage. And we laugh. I have a secret to share. On any given day, I can tell you that I feel like I am not enough. And that’s when I revisit a page from a book called Nothing to Prove. (Seriously, Jennie Allen, stop encouraging my crazy thoughts!)
The sermon was on my mind as I was putting laundry in the dryer before moms’ group. The laundry that seemingly never ends, that has every right to tell me, “Brandie, you’ve got enough on your plate.” But instead, I watched my Chinese sons help me and toddle off to play. And I got teary. And I got a little angry with God for making me feel that old familiar pang of sadness for orphans. And here’s what I felt him say to me.
Brandie, I won’t take this feeling away from you. At least not now. I’ve worked your whole life to bring you to this point of brokenness. To this point of pain that makes you put others’ whose names you don’t even know in the forefront of your mind. To make you believe that welcoming another into your family in my name isn’t such a hard thing, even when it is hard. Remember when you met the little boy across the street who was adopted from Asia? That was not chance. That was me. Remember when your brother played baseball with a boy whose family fostered and adopted children? That was me. Remember when you and Kevin had an opportunity to volunteer with a children’s home in college? Me again. Remember when you adopted Caston, and you were secretly so scared of his potential medical needs that you told no one except me? Do you see how I have worked this out? You and your family can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. No, I won’t take this feeling away. I’m not done with you yet.
And then minutes later, my verse of the day popped up on my phone screen.
“Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” John 7:38
Living Water. The place where my son lived until we made a faith decision, one that made absolutely no sense except to God. He prepared this place for us.
So, now what?
When it was my turn to answer this morning, I admitted that I didn’t want to answer the question. I didn’t want to go to that place of vulnerability that made me cry in front of my friends. Those who watched me spend an entire meeting darting back and forth between my 2 and 3 year old sons probably wondered what on earth I could possibly be thinking. But God. So I did speak, and I fought back tears as my lip quivered and I talked about Jennie’s book and Jason’s sermon and that verse of the day. Because there was no denying that God is definitely saying something to me. It is unmistakable. No many how many times I tell him, “I don’t wanna hear it!” He finds a way to speak louder and louder without ever saying a word.
So, now what?
I don’t even know the answer. I pray, and I wait for God to open or close doors, for him to carry out his will. I don’t believe that he has given me this ache if he doesn’t intend for me to do something. And for whatever that something is, my answer is, “Yes, God.” Maybe, today, my “Yes, God,” is to share this. Y’all, adoption is life or death for most of these precious children. If it’s not physical death from conditions that are treatable here in the US, then it’s spiritual death, or it’s emotional death. Just this past week, I followed a family on Facebook as they raced across the country to adopt a dying child. Their flight home was delayed, and they had the whole adoption community praying that their child would live to receive his next medical treatment in the United States. Life or death. Why are we ok with choosing death for them when the cost is…our convenience? Our comfort? Our time? Our life here is but a vapor. Live it well. Love others. The least of these are depending on us. In a list of pros and cons, the cons will always win. We can always find enough reasons to justify our “no.”
What has God been saying to you this week? This year? This life? For many of you reading this, I believe the answer is orphan care. It’s something that has been in the back of your mind, something that human logic pushed aside. I urge you to pray. Pray for wisdom, for clear direction, and for open doors. Pray for God to make what seems impossible, possible. And pray for them. Pray for their patient hearts as they wait with hope for Mamas and Babas everywhere to make their faith decisions.
I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.