It was just over a year ago that I answered the phone call that changed the trajectory of our lives. It was the call from our adoption agency family coordinator letting me know that she had two referrals for us to consider. As she began to describe the children my heart raced. This was it! This was the moment I had dreamed about and anticipated for so long. Could it be, that I was about to be introduced to my children for the first time?
It had only been the day before that call, that, I had received a text from a close friend, letting me know she had a dream that Kirk and I were walking out of the airport holding hands with Lily and Liam. Both children had excitement and a bit of worry in their eyes—but more excitement. She elaborated and said, “But the look on your hubs face, it was priceless!” She encouraged me that our referral was coming, “But not when you think.”
I woke the morning of January 16, 2014 at 5:30am feeling impressed to get out of bed. I was tired, but felt urged to read my Bible and pray. I’m not even sure how I came to this next verse, but when I did, I felt sure there was a hidden message in it for me. Habakkuk 2:3 says, “For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and not delay.” I wrote it down unsure what it meant. I had no idea that the calling we had been given, to adopt a boy and a girl, was about to be revealed but in the way I expected.
At 10:33 am my cell phone rang.
I saw the (703) area code but it did not register. Ashley (our family coordinator) was calling to let me know she had two referrals for us to consider. I was beside myself when I realized who it was and why she was calling! After she explained the purpose for her call she gave me some preliminary information about the children to allow me the option of reviewing their files or waiting for another match.
She started by saying, “Okay, I have a little girl that is considered special needs. She is almost 8 years old. She has a vision problem, (crossed eyes). Would you like to review her file?
I swallowed hard. “Yes!”
“Okay.” She went on, “There is boy almost 10. He is only three months younger than your youngest child, would that be a problem if your children are in the same grade?”
She proceeded, “Would you like to review his file?”
“Yes!” I squealed.
“Okay, I’ll send you their files. Examine them with your husband and let me know if you’d like to proceed with a full review.”
After the longest ten minutes of my life, I had their information in my inbox.
I was floored with emotion as I opened those files for the first time. This was the moment I had waited so many months for. I can still recall the intense emotions that sunk deep into my chest, as I looked blurry-eyed at their photographs for the first time.
Time stood still.
He was a handsome boy, an older child whose only special need was that he was older and harder to place and she an adorable little girl with what appeared to be a minor vision problem. I called my husband and forwarded the files to him. We were both at work, so we agreed to look them over together later that evening.
During the waiting, I had envisioned what it would be like to receive my children’s referrals. I wondered, how would I know if they were mine? Would I feel a connection immediately, or would that sense of knowing they were mine come gradually over time? The moment of discovery had finally come.
Months earlier we had discussed the list of possible special needs we felt comfortable with. I had done research on the various conditions and reviewed the information with Kirk. Somehow checking the boxes of special needs that we both were comfortable with felt awkward, but this was a required step. Part of the home study is designed to evaluate and approve a family to care for a child with special needs. The family is assessed by the social worker to determine if they are equipped to care for a child with needs noted on the list. Kirk and I had agreed that only special needs that we both were comfortable with would make it on our list. If one was okay with a special need but the other one not, then it was a no. It seemed simple enough.
At first glance the needs of these two children appeared to fit within our list of approved special needs. Yet, as we read through the little girl’s file more closely, we discovered she had significant developmental delays. This was an immediate red flag. We were adopting two children at once and we already have one child whose needs will require life-long support. Neither of us felt comfortable taking a second child whose needs will likely necessitate the same.
Despite the red flag, we both felt paralyzed to make any decision.
We questioned ourselves. Was God calling us to take on more than we had planned or anticipated? Or was our discomfort a signal meant to offer us direction? Either way, we were not ready to decide as we both felt unsure.
We immediately bathed our decision in prayer and then sought additional information to help guide our steps. We started with requesting an update from the orphanage. We sent a list of ten questions, and waited for their reply. Next, we obtained an expert opinion from a physician who specializes in reviewing adoption referral files. Next we reached out to the adoption community, requesting feedback regarding ‘how to know when to say yes’ to a referral.
The orphanage updates were a mix of good and bad news. The boy’s update stated he was on grade level in school and appeared to be healthy in all respects. The little girl’s update indicated that her delays had prevented her from attending school and she was unable to speak full sentences. This news heightened our hesitancy about accepting her referral.
Next, we sought the opinion from a physician who reviewed adoption referrals. She stated very matter-of-factly that in her opinion, the boy was a healthy older child with the exception that he appeared to be very small for his age. She pointed that the little girl had significant delays that would likely prevent her from ever living independently. She held nothing back and gave me the worst-case scenario to think about. At first, I was a bit taken aback by her negativity, but later I realized she had done me a favor by making me see what I did not want to see.
While all of this information weighed heavily on us, we were eased by the encouragement we had received from the adoption community. So many families responded positively regarding how they had come to make hard decisions. Some told us of ‘knowing’ it was their child the moment they saw a picture. Others said they did not know right away but came to their yes more slowly. Others told of stories where they did not accept the first or sometimes even the second and third referral they were given. I was comforted by the fact that there was more than one way to ‘know’ and that not everyone accepted the first referral. It became clear that there was no perfect formula we needed to use, we just had to keep asking, praying and waiting until a clear answer was revealed.
Why was this so hard? The answer I discovered was painful.
In that period of waiting I came to understand that part of my hesitancy to not saying ‘yes’ to adopting this little girl, was the implication that our lack of a ‘yes’ was really a ‘no’.
That was it. I knew that I was struggling with saying, ‘no’ to a child who really needed a family. Despite my gut feeling that this was not our little girl, I was not comfortable sending her file back and saying—no.
I wrestled with this one for several weeks until I found some encouragement from a book I was reading, Kisses from Katie, by Katie Davis, a (single) adoptive mother of fourteen former-orphans in Uganda. As I read her story, I found answers to mine.
After adopting her eleventh child, Katie had decided not to adopt any more children. She felt her family was complete, until the Lord made it ever so clear she was to take another and not just any child. The child presented to her had significant delays. Katie described how she was hesitant to take a child with limited mobility since she already had a large level of responsibility to her other eleven girls as well as to the people she ministered to in the villages. Having a child who could not walk would mean she would have to carry her everywhere. But then one day the Lord made his plan so clear Katie could not deny it, and once more she embraced a new daughter.
I connected with this story, and wondered if this was my answer. Did God want us to take on more than we had planned but not more than He had planned? Though I felt willing to move forward with her, my husband did not. I wondered at this discrepancy. We would have to move on this decision soon. Although the adoption agency had given us a lenient two weeks to decide, the clock was ticking and we would have to give an answer soon.
January 27, 2014 “Not every child that came to Katie was Katie’s child.”
Those were the words I heard the Lord speak that morning as my husband prayed for God to show us his plan for these two little ones. One would become ours and the other one not.
After hearing from he Lord, I recalled the rest of Katie’s story. I realized that many, many, many children came to Katie for help. Sometimes people would bring children to her or ask her to adopt them, but she did not adopt every girl that she ministered to or every girl that needed adoption. Katie adopted only the girls that were her children—the ones that God had chosen for her.
God made his plan for us clear that morning. Our first referral for a girl was a no. She was not ours. My wrestling was over as quickly as it had come. In that moment of prayer, I knew this little one was not my daughter. I realized that even though I was not called to be her mother, she was His child. It wasn’t up to me to save her or any; I only need be obedient to the calling he set before me.
If you are waiting on a referral, here are some tips on how to get ready for your yes:
- Pray for your child while you are waiting. (I am in awe at how our Lily’s personality matches the prayers I had prayed over her exactly).
- Seek the Lord throughout the process and follow His lead. (Getting behind God instead of running ahead was a hard lesson for me at times).
- Seek godly men and women in the adoption community to offer their wisdom when you need help, support, encouragement or direction. (This is vital!)
- Seek to understand your spouse’s concerns about the adoption. Move forward only when you both agree.If one spouse is in on board and the other not, take it as either a no and move-on, or a wait-not-yet, but do not push. (There was a lot of waiting I had to do. God will move in a spouse’s heart, you just need to get out of the way and then wait.)
- Be prepared that if you do not accept the first referral that comes your way, there may be some people that will not agree with your decision. You may feel rejected and judged, but do not be discouraged. It is only God you need to please.
- Do not adopt to try and save anyone. That is God’s job and only He can do it. Adopt out of obedience to your calling then rely on Him to carry you through. (It is hard work but oh so rewarding!)
- Realize there is no perfect formula for deciding to accept a referral or what special needs (if any) you’re equipped to handle. “Pray like it depends on God and then work like it depends on you,” (Mark Batterson).
One last note–one of my concerns in writing this is that it would discourage a family from adopting a child with significant delays or offend someone who already has. So before I leave anyone with any negative impression of how we feel about children with severe developmental delays, let me clearly state that we highly value all children, but especially those precious ones with significant needs. They need families too! We are parents to a child with special needs and he is our pride and joy! Our hesitancy to say yes to another child with significant developmental delays was based on what we felt we could manage in the mix of our other responsibilities. We prayerfully considered it and do not want our decision to discourage anyone who has been called to embrace a child with significant developmental delays. Go and do what you are called to do and if you already have, then Amen!
Tiffany is a wife to Kirk and mother of eight including six biological and two newly adopted from China. With a looming financial crisis at the outset of their recent adoption, God took their family on a journey of faith. Having been home just over ten weeks, they are currently working through the transition phase of their new adoption. Tiffany writes an honest account of challenges of adoption and the redemptive work of her savior Jesus Christ at Extravagant Love. Though her faith and limits have been tested, she points that adoption is paving the way for her to grow and experience God’s presence as never before.