Yesterday when I went for a run I spotted a flower growing out of a crack in the cement. I stopped, bent down and took a closer look. It was small, but vibrant, growing, living. No soil was visable, no grass, nothing but what seemed like cement that went on forever. Just one soft-stemmed flower, petals small and vulnerable, pushing the pavement aside.
About a week ago I had a conversation with someone about adoption. This person did not believe, no matter how much I wanted to love my daughter, that my love could be as far-reaching for her as the love I have for my biological children. I tried to explain it. But how do you reduce the velocity of your heart, the acres of love that you carry into words? How do you convince someone to believe in something that is unseen, to reason about something unreasonable?
Adoption is unreasonable. It is unlikely and unnatural. It is counter-culture. It goes again every biological grain. It’s not math. It is not two plus two equals four. It’s uncontrollable. And completely, unequivocally unreasonable.
But adoption is redemptive because love is redemptive. And love is the flower, the tender shoot that pushes through miles of pavement, forces her way through everything hopeless and bleak and impossible. Love is wondrously unreasonable.
I am convinced, from my toes to my top, that Keza could not be any more my daughter if I had pushed her out of my body. I know it. I know it in the same way I know that I am a daughter of God, in the same way that I know that He could not love me more.
Love brought redemption. Redemption said that Gentiles were daughters and sons, despite not being God’s chosen race. They were adopted. They became God’s chosen race. I don’t for a minute doubt that I was born in God’s heart long before redemption made a way for me. Love gripped me, tethered me to my Father before I ever reached out for Him, before my lungs ever held a breath of air.
It’s unreasonable. It is only understood when you can believe in something impossible. It is only understood when a miracle can take root and grow.
Adoption is the heart of God. It’s woven into our lives, the redemption and love, power and strength of it, whether we have eyes to see it or not. I can’t convince anyone to believe what has happened in my heart. But I can speak the truth of it. I can lay down and rest in it. I can sit on the sidewalk and watch, with wonder and amazement, that the soft and vulnerable stem is also tough as nails, that love sprouts in darkness.
"She is so sweet and so beautiful! How long has she been a part of your family?"
I told the woman four months. But Keza, baby, you were our family long before we looked into those deep brown eyes for the very first time. You were our family before we hopped a plane to Africa, before we signed a bunch of papers and paid a bunch of money. Keza baby, you were ours before you were even born, before we asked for you, before we wanted you.
I don't know how He does it, but He does it and He does it dramatically, spectacularly! He designs our hearts, He hides our dreams and our hopes and our children somewhere in the deep places. And when the time is right, when He knows we are ready, when it is HIS time and HIS place and everything is positioned, when He sets all the peices in motion and they obey, we are amazed. Keza baby, you were part of our hearts before we knew we had hearts.
He planted you. He watered you. He grew a desire. He pushed us when we didn't even feel the hand on our backs. He led us to adoption. He led us to Africa. He led us to Rwanda. He led us to Kigali. At the right year. In the right month. At the right place. And when we held you, we knew you. Miraculously.
What we seek we shall find; what we flee from flees from us. -Ralph Waldo Emerson
Adoption is so expensive. I don’t know where we would find the money. I wouldn’t even know where to start. There is so much paperwork and it all is so confusing. How am I sure I will love my baby like he is my own? What if the child hates me? Maybe we won’t be able to bond. What if they have emotional or developmental problems because they have been in an orphanage? Aren’t kids like that always messed up? How do we know an agency is legit and not scamming us out of our money? Some people wait years for their child. Can I do that to my heart? It sounds exhausting. Am I going to be perceived as un-American and selfish if I adopt internationally instead of from my own country? There are so many unknown factors in International adoption. How can we trust the information given to us? What if we get there and something horrible happens like the paperwork gets lost or something is wrong with the baby and we have to go home empty handed? What if the medical reports say the child is healthy and we get home and he has HIV or something? What about having a multi-race family? Are people going to judge us? Will that be hard for the child, growing up with a white family? Is that going to cause resentment and anger for being adopted? Will the child love me?
Thoughts that I have thought. Thoughts that every adoptive mother or father think when contemplating adoption. Thoughts that will still try to surface long after they have been buried. Thoughts I could fill entire pages with. Thoughts whose name is fear.
Running in Christian circles you meet a few people who believe that any fear is equal to sin. After all, fear is the antithesis of faith and faith is our very composition, it’s what makes us His. I believe God uses our fears. Fear, in its basic form serves as a survival mechanism to help you protect yourself. It’s what crawls up a mother’s spine when a stranger approaches her child. It’s what spreads across your chest when your toes curl around the edge of a cliff. Fear is a gift. The problem is, most of us have developed a hyper-active survival mechanism and it not only protects us, it cuts off every ‘unknown’ at the knees.
Websters defines fear as, “a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, or pain, whether the threat is real or imagined.” The thing is, even Webster understands that fear need not be founded. What someone is afraid of can be a complete mirage, an illusion, imagination, something that doesn’t even exist. On the other hand, maybe what you fear does exist. Maybe it’s really ugly. Either scenario still leads me to the same question:
Who do you want to be?
I was not an athletic child. I was routinely the last, or at least the next to last person picked for any sort of sport. I was the child who was always overweight, insecure, and dubious of anything physically strenuous. I was the teenager who was conveniently sick every time the mile run rolled around. My struggles with weight must have begun somewhere in these formative years and if I am honest, they still have not ended.
Fast forward a decade or so. I am pregnant with my second child. I am so sick of being fat. And not just the pregnancy part. I am sick of being who I am: the girl who sits on the sidelines and watches her life run past her. It came to me when I was seven months pregnant: I could fear facing the battle that scared me more than anything, or I could regret a life unlived. I could be who I have been. Or I could be who I want to be. So, I hoisted my belly up and stepped with two swollen ankles into my deepest fears. Six months after welcoming little Maddox into this world I had lost 60 pounds and ran my first half-marathon. A year after that I stood with my toes punching the starting line of the Seattle Marathon. Me. Hanna Nicole. I hated running. You couldn’t have paid me to run. I avoided it at all cost. But you know, the person I wanted to be would have been crazy enough to run 26.2 miles. So I did it. And somewhere along the line, when I felt like I had found a way to wrap my arms around the sky, I realized that the person I was and the person I wanted to become were both finally me.
People who adopt are afraid. They feel fear like everyone else. At first, the fear is overwhelming. But for whatever reason, somewhere along the lines, they decided that the risk was worth taking. They decided to face their fears and work through them.
I have a friend who just a few weeks ago said, “The greatest risk comes from the lack of knowledge about your choices. Try learning as much as you can about something if you're intimidated or afraid of it, your understanding will most likely change your perception.”
The first time I ran after giving birth I made it a tenth of a mile. But each time I went to workout I ran farther. I remember when I hit 2 miles I felt like an Olympian! I could not freaking believe it. I kept running and starting researching and reading. The more I ran, the more I learned, the more attainable it seemed and I slowly grew to believe that I was capable of more than I could imagine. Adoption is the same way. You just have to start looking at your questions instead of running from them. You have to search and find answers. You will certainly find that many of your fears really were illusions. You will also find that some fears are founded. Once you face those facts, the certainties and the unknowns, once you look them in the eyes and know what they are made of, you can make an informed decision about adoption. Maybe you will find that you really don't want to adopt or cannot at this time in your life. And maybe, just maybe, you will realize that you are capable of more than you imagined.
Regardless of your choice or what path you will lead your life, never let your fear make your decisions. Feel your fear. Respect your fear. Look your fear in the eyes and be who you want to be.
Sorry this has been so long coming. I underestimate life with three children in the middle of summer. But here is Part 2: Money
One of the first thing people always asked us when we were in the process of adopting was “So, how much is this going to cost you?” Two years ago when we were in research mode, money was the first thing we looked at on any given countries criteria. To say money isn’t important would be a lie. Money does not grow on trees and babies don’t just fall out of the sky into your arms. When it comes to adoption- domestic or international, babies cost a lot. If anyone tells you otherwise, don’t believe them. In the long run most people end up spending $20,000-$40,000 dollars. Your stomach just flipped, didn’t it? So did mine. Most people see those numbers and that’s it. The off-switch flips in some corner of their mind and life moves on.
Living in Alaska I am surrounded by mountains on all sides. I can leave my home and within ten minutes be hiking in what looks like it came straight out of National Geographic. If you stand at ground zero of a mountain, as I have countless times, you can’t even see the mountain. You just see a wall. A brick rising out of the ground with no visible end in sight.
There are two kinds of people: ones who do and ones who don’t. One man will stand with his toes touching the wall, look at the overgrown face of mountain and tremble. He will decide before he ever laces his shoes that he will never see the other side. He is much too small, the mountain much too treacherous. Another man will stand in front of the same scene and he will also feel fear. But he will, with trembling hands, knot his shoes securely and begin to climb with one question in his heart: what if?
What if the person who instantly writes off adoption with the monetary cost would pause? What options might open if he realized that there are more ways to pass a mountain than bulldozing through it? What if he decided to roll up his sleeves and give it his best shot? What if he became creative and dogged in his pursuit to find alternate routes to the same destination? What if he did it, found his destination? And what if one day that destination looked back at him with deep brown eyes that seemed to say, “I knew you’d come?”
Have you ever noticed that the most treasured pieces of your life are the ones that have cost you the most, be it money, time, or effort? What relationship, what love, what joy has ever flooded your soul without first costing you something that was hard to give?
John Maxwell once said that “A person’s courage to fulfill his vision comes from passion, not position.” When I was in Rwanda I learned that the majority of families who adopt are not the rich, upper-income-class that the world perceives them to be. The people who adopt are middle income, average people. The people who adopt are the people who want to. Do you want to adopt? Then feel the fear, and do it anyway. Thousands of us have.
When you start searching for answers with an expectant heart you will find a wealth of information and help available to you including hundreds of grants, programs and financial aid. You will find that our government offers a tax credit/refund of over $13,000 for those who adopt. You will find an amazing world-wide support system through blogs, forums and chat groups where you learn and grow with hundreds of people in the exact position you are.
When we started adopting we did not have the funds we needed. But we had faith and fundraisers. For our first fundraiser we raffled off a weekend stay at a ski-lodge. I knocked on hundreds of stranger’s doors and sold tickets. To say I was intimidated would be a serious understatement. But I did it, met many adoptive families behind open doors and made our first $3,000. Our next fundraiser completely bombed. We actually didn’t even finish it. We were discouraged, but figured it was time to re-route, not give up. Wayne worked really hard in the coming months, bringing in additional funds that we could contribute toward the adoption. Our last fundraiser was a garage sale. We asked for donations on Face-book and Craigslist and advertised it everywhere. We made $4,000. Arnold Bennett once said, “Much ingenuity with a little money is vastly more profitable and amusing than much money without ingenuity.” I know countless other families who have raised thousands upon thousands of dollars because they wanted something so they got creative and made a way.
People, you can do it. It’s absolutely possible. Research. Ask questions. Brainstorm. Call me or another adoptive family for encouragement. Look at that mountain and just start climbing. Move. The higher you climb the more you’ll see. And never forget for even a moment that your Father, the one who loves and sees the children no one else does, owns every dollar in the world. So if your money isn’t really even yours, what do you have to lose?
Here's a small glimpse of my destination looking back at me:
“Thank God for making me incapable of carrying a child. Thank God for a broken body with a broken womb. Thank God for silence. If He had answered my thousands of prayers to help us get pregnant, I never would have known my daughter. I had no idea how perfect, how real this would be.” Kara’s arms are wrapped around the girl with deep almond eyes. If eyes are the window to the soul, Lydia’s soul is filled with beauty.
Kara and her husband couldn’t conceive. Month stacked upon month and soon it was years filled with disappointment and heartache. Infertility treatments failed one after another. Soon they were left with one option: In Vitro, and even with that extensive procedure, nothing could be guaranteed. $20,000 was the figure Kara’s doctor quoted, whether it worked or not. It was then, that moment, sitting in the doctor’s office with tears of frustration glossing her face, it came to her: adoption.
Unlike Kara, I had no problem conceiving. I just wanted to adopt. In fact, I feared when I first got pregnant that it might diminish my desire to someday adopt. I loved Gideon so deeply while he was forming and that love strengthened every day. I remember wondering how on earth I could love another child as I love him, especially if that child wasn’t mine biologically. In the weeks and months after he was born I determined that having a biological child was in no way diminishing my desire to adopt, it was actually multiplying it. I would look at him, hold him, love him and think, “My gosh, there are millions of him out there with no one. I could love another child.”
Fast forward four years. I am standing in an orphanage, in a room stacked with infants. Hungry, searching eyes look up at me as if to say, “Where is my mother? Have you seen her? Could you be her?” One particular child, not unlike any other, searched my eyes with these questions and was answered, for once in her life, as I extended my arms, picked her up and walked out of that room.
Sometimes when I look at Keza, her eyes become brown bottomless wells. It’s as if I can see past her and into the eyes of the brothers and sisters we left behind. And not only them, but into the eyes of a whole generation of children who are alone. I think of the people like Kara and her husband, whose eyes were also once wild and grasping for hope that one day they would have a child to love and I wonder how many people in this world have the same hungry eyes, how many could have what they are looking for, daughters and fathers, mothers and sons, if they only could look beyond what they thought would be and see what is?
Surely I don’t really understand all the Kara’s in the world since I cannot relate to infertility. I can’t pretend that I know every answer or that I have the right to judge. Here’s what I do know: When I held Keza in my arms for the very first time it was no less miraculous than when my trembling arms wrapped around the newborn bodies of my sons. My heart was no less filled with wonder, the tears no less fresh upon my face. I was no less a mother, she was no less my child.
Adoption is not Plan B. Adoption is the heartbeat of God. Maybe it is hard to imagine. Maybe there is fear. Yet maybe, just maybe, adoption is the answer to a lot of unanswered questions. But don’t take my word for it. Ask someone like Kara.
Father to the fatherless, defender of widows — this is God. God places the lonely in families. Psalms 68:5-6