All I saw was my fear, not the joy that could be found on the other side of “yes.”
Grace blows into my life as unpredictably as the wind. Sometimes I feel it on my cheeks as softly as a whisper. At other times it’s a gust as powerful as the wind that topples trees in my Chicago neighborhood during summer thunderstorms.
When we adopted our daughter, it was like a gust, and I was afraid that the wind of grace would topple me too.
I was at work when I got the call from our adoption caseworker. A 2-year-old girl needed to be placed in a foster-to-adopt home. “Permanent placement,” the caseworker said. That meant the parental rights were likely going to be terminated and the child needed to be placed in a home that was willing to adopt her.
That was us.
My husband and I had been waiting for this call. After seven long, painful years of trying to become parents, it seemed as if it was finally going to happen.
We were exhausted from the pursuit of parenthood: the infertility treatments, adoption classes, foster-parenting training and truckloads of paperwork. Most difficult of all was the relentless roller-coaster of soaring hope followed by crashing disappointment and grief. Now we were just numb.
“We need to know within the next few days,” our caseworker said on the other end of the line.
“Of course,” I croaked. “I’ll have to talk with my husband. But we’ll let you know as soon as possible.”
Courage to embrace the unknown
I’m embarrassed to say that “yes” didn’t come easily. My husband, David, and I had gotten to the point where we thought it might be time to let the dream of parenthood die. In fact, in my head I had started constructing scenarios of what our lives would look like as a childless couple. We would travel. I would write books.
Parenthood was suddenly within my grasp, and instead of jumping for joy, I got a pit in my stomach and started hyperventilating.
David and I had both been single for a while, and then a married couple with no children for many years. Adding a toddler to the mix would be a drastic change.
I was also afraid of dealing with the foster care system. Before the adoption would be finalized, we would be required to have monthly visits with a caseworker, continue visits with the birth parents and attend court hearings. It would be a lot of work on top of being first-time parents.
I didn’t sleep. I felt sick to my stomach. My two sisters came to visit from Ohio to help me think through the decision (they are both adoptive parents). David tried to calm my fears. He was already convinced that we should accept the placement and couldn’t understand my hesitation. But I was in turmoil.
While talking with a friend about the decision, she asked, “What would it be like to say ‘yes?’ ” She went on to tell me how she and her husband had made an agreement to not let fear be the basis of any of their decisions.
I realized then that my fear of the unknown, of what I would have to leave behind, was guiding my decision.
How many times had a fearful “no” stopped the gust of grace from entering my life? How many times had I let my anxiety keep me from the good things that God might have for me?
David and I talked about it at length. I told him about my fears; his steadiness calmed my anxiety. Whatever struggles the adoption might bring, we would deal with them—together.
Finally, with shaking hands and a pounding heart, I called up the agency and said, “Yes.”
Making room for Desta
A month later, Desta moved into our house like a college coed moving into her first dorm room. She had a toy box; an impressive collection of dolls; a pink suitcase filled with tiny pink skirts, skinny jeans and pink socks; enough books to fill the Library of Congress; and the personality of a sorority house president.
We had to rearrange every piece of furniture in our small condo to make room for her and her stuff. We had to rearrange our entire existence.
The first year was hard. We were working full time, learning to parent a toddler, and juggling the many visits and appointments adoption required. We endured every virus known to mankind that Desta was exposed to in day care and passed on to us—I thought we would never make it through the winter of 2013.
But then spring came and we turned a corner. We went to Michigan in May for a short vacation. It was still chilly, but we walked along the beach, played in the waves, and Desta and I hunted for sea glass in the sand. We were becoming a family, and I cringed at the thought that I’d almost let my fear stand in the way of the chance to mother a beautiful, funny, spunky little girl.
Adoption is never without pain and loss. Desta had been separated from her birth family and her first foster family. David and I had to mourn the years we spent dealing with miscarriages and failed fertility treatments. But together, we were healing from the trauma.
Adoption has taught me that faith requires us to trust God when we are afraid of the unknown. Even if our fears are realized, something beautiful and good will come out of our willingness to say “yes.”
A few months after Desta came to live with us, we were eating lunch when she stopped, looked at me and asked, “Where is my home?”
“Your home is here,” I told her, pointing to her bedroom. “You belong here.” She looked at me and smiled. It took her awhile to understand that she wasn’t leaving, that she would be with us forever. But slowly she started calling us “Mommy” and “Daddy.”
Desta is now 7 and in second grade. She loves the color pink, dancing, reading and playing with her friends and her American Girl dolls (preferably at the same time).
“I’m so happy,” Desta told me recently.
“I am too,” I told her as I kissed her dimples.
“I am too.”
November is adoption awareness month.
Learn about foster-to-adopt programs by connecting with your local Lutheran Services in America agency. Visit lutheranservices.org, click on the “services” tab and search for adoption/foster services in your area.