Recently, my husband and I decided that we would like to add to our family by adopting a little girl out of foster care through DCF. This has meant that I’ve spent a lot of time navigating a struggle between two states of mind: (1) the better angels of my nature, as Abraham Lincoln said, which want to do this wholeheartedly, and (2) my darker angels: fearfulness and selfishness. I can describe the first state of mind as a feeling of being gloriously open to the radically freeing and life-giving love of the Holy Spirit. This state feels as though I am standing on a mountain on a sunny day, where the air feels so pristine in my spiritual lungs that to describe it as merely “fresh air” would be to do it an extreme injustice. This state is to be open to love, to life, to faith, to giving, to God. This is to know what Jesus meant when he said, “Consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air,” and “Which of you by worrying can add even one cubit to your span of life?”, and “Fear not, little flock, for your heavenly Father is pleased to give you the Kingdom.” This is where I want to give joyfully all that I am.
The second state of mind I mentioned, the one characterized by fear, is the one in which I think mostly about myself. This state feels as though I am standing in a small room, where the air is a bit stuffy. In this room, the Holy Spirit really has to shout loudly through those closed windows for me even to acknowledge that I might possibly hear, perhaps, a faint beautiful Sound coming from somewhere. But I’m doing my best to ignore it. This state is one of self-preservation, and prefers the safety of “known quantities.” In this state, I look askance and reluctantly at the one who calls himself my Shepherd, who claims me as a little one of his flock and beckons, “Come, follow me.” In this state, I’d rather not hear my Shepherd calling. I’d prefer to be one of the sheep that kind of trundles along beneath his radar (as if that were possible) and keep my head down, comfortably munching my patch of grass and pretending I do not hear his voice. But, as he said before, he goes looking for the ones that are out of range and can’t hear him. He’s dedicated like that.
This unknown child that we might adopt would have been removed from her birth parents for one reason or another, most often drug use and concomitant neglect. She would be probably 4-6 years old, and will have been through more confusion and dislocation in her short life than any child should have to deal with. It will be very hard at first, she will not know us, and it’ll take her a while to feel like she’s part of the family. There probably won’t be instant attachment. This is the point at which I hear my own fear whisper to me: “You already have a wonderful, biological daughter. It’s not worth the effort to do this, and you might disrupt things. What are you thinking? Stay comfortable.” This is the state in which I fear all the worst-case scenarios.
But if we are not willing to silence fear, have a little faith, and be open to some level of the unknown, we can surely miss out on wonderful things that can change life forever for the better. When you are expecting a biological child, you don’t know what could happen either. You don’t know what the child will be like in terms of personality, or whether they will be healthy, what they will be like when they’re older, and you don’t even know if something will go wrong with the pregnancy or delivery. And, let’s be honest, if the first stages of having an adopted child in your home are tough, having “your own” biological infant is pretty tough for the first few months too. They’re both tough. Neither one is a bump-less road.
Someone might ask, okay, if you think you’d like to have a second child, why not have another biological one? Well, for us, the first and foremost reason is that there are many good children right here in our own state whose birth parents could not or would not take care of them, and they need a stable forever family to love them and to be a part of. Many of them languish in foster care for much or all of their childhoods and are never adopted, and never have that stability that is so critical to a human’s development. They deserve better than that, and if we would be able to give them better than that, then we feel like we should.
Our faith has a big role in this, too; and often, my husband does a lot better job than I do at listening to the Shepherd’s voice over the whispering of fear and self-centeredness. My husband takes seriously what Jesus said about “whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”; and “take up your cross and follow me”; and “whatever you do to/for the least of these brethren, you do to/for me”; and “there is no greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” My husband takes seriously too the admonishments in the Old Testament (validated again in the New) for each and every able person to take special care of “the widow, the orphan, and the stranger/foreigner in your midst.”
And as for the reality that this road will be hard at first, my husband also inspires me in his willingness to accept that Jesus never promised there would be no suffering in this imperfect temporary world; that promise only holds true for the eternal world to come. In this world, we are supposed to walk with him through suffering and know that he suffered too and continues to suffer with us; and we are also supposed to join with him as “coworkers in the vineyard,” to help alleviate the suffering of others and bring about as much of the loving kingdom of God as we can on Earth. God gives all of us the chance to be co-creators in this way with him, because that is what he wants for us.
In one of his many parables about what the kingdom of God is like, Jesus said that “the kingdom of God is like a little bit of yeast that a woman put into her batch of dough, and it worked its way through and leavened the entire batch.” Like yeast, it is slow but sure, and needs certain nourishment. But give it a chance and it will leaven. Sometimes, if you’re willing to trust, and accept the unknown, you receive life, and receive it abundantly. Somewhere, I’m sure I hear a beautiful Sound. And even in the moments when I can’t hear it, I’m going to do my best to remember what it sounds like.
copyright © 2015 Elizabeth Keck