Growing up and as a young adult, I never gave much thought to adoption and certainly never considered that it would be a part of the fabric of my life and my family. When I met my wife-to-be, Amanda, I was a rather immature man-child who loved the Lord and wanted to serve Him, yet was almost completely ignorant of what it really meant to be a servant of Christ while I was wrapped up in my own little world -- which was about to miraculously expand. Amanda and I discussed family during our 6 month courtship, of course, and it was somewhat of the "American Dream" type of philosophy, something like 3 or 4 kids...but, unbeknownst to me at the time, Amanda had a greater plan. But first she had to hook me, and after the wedding, it wasn't long before the plan began to unfold. Or maybe, it was like the plans that I thought I had began to unravel.
There came a time when Amanda mentioned the idea of foster care and adoption to me. At that time, I was like so many others in the world -- that was something for someone else to do. I wanted "our kids", not someone else's. My heart was cold and closed to the idea. It wasn't my idea of a family. But, Amanda being the persistent soul that she is, didn't give up on me. Or, maybe it's that she refused to let me give up. She always has said she gets what she wants. She first met me at church when she was 13 and I was 21 -- I do not remember that day, but she prayed about me for the next 5 years, and when we met again when she was 18, I was instantly drawn to her and she was still 18 when we wed. And it was prayer that she impressed upon me as a cold-hearted soul in our early marriage. She asked me "Have you ever just told God you would do whatever He wanted you to do?" Well, no, not really, I hadn't -- maybe I was afraid to, maybe I didn't trust Him enough, maybe I didn't want to give up my so-called plans. But, through the work of the Holy Spirit and the love of a godly woman, one day I did pray that prayer and I did tell God that. It was like everything within me began to shift, and my heart began to open up to the many possibilities that God had out there for my life, for our life, that I had been keeping closed out. When I said yes to God, to His plan, and yes to adoption, and yes to letting Him build our family, then the adventure...and the blessings, began.
Our first child was Precious, an 8 year old African-American girl with special needs from Cincinnati. There were many comments from mine and Amanda's families concerning the inter-racial aspect, questionings of if that is really what is best for the child, and so forth. But I am so thankful that God is the God of all peoples and ethnic groups, and that color is certainly no barrier in building a family. And what is best for a child is certainly not languishing in the foster care system and eventually becoming an adult without a family. Six weeks after Precious was placed with us, our biological son Dayton was born. His birth was miraculous in many ways, and I truly believe we may never have experienced him being our son had we not been obedient to God's desire for us. But yet the statements from our families continued -- now we had a biological child and surely we would not feel the need to continue to adopt. What they didn't understand, what many still don't understand, is that adoption was in our hearts. And once it's there, it really never leaves. You see, I came to realize that adoption is at the very heart of God. I don't know how I could have been so blind to this before, but it's all throughout Scripture -- adoption is how God is building His family, the greatest family of all. When He saves us, He adopts us. He becomes our Heavenly Father. We have all the rights of Sonship. We're His children. The doctrine of adoption, which I had always overlooked, has become my favorite doctrine. When we adopt children it is a glimpse into how God feels about us, how He loves us, unconditionally. Don't overlook it. I invite you to immerse yourself in it. It will change you.
The children kept coming, a brother and sister from Columbus, African-American -- Unique with special needs, Denzell a "typical" child. The school system our children were in at the time took great offense to our enrolling of our African American children. I was teaching in that system at the time -- a bogus charge was leveled against me, I ultimately lost my job, we lost our house, our children and family endured much mistreatment in that community, and we eventually moved to my wife's family's farm. There is much more to this story, but the fact is that there is a cost to following Jesus, there is a cost to adoption...but when I think about the price that God paid to adopt me (just look at the Cross), it sure makes any price we may need to pay woefully pale in comparison. This battle ultimately ended in a federal courtroom, with charges of discrimination and slander, among other things. With God directing the fight, we victoriously won. A bold and loud statement was made that attitudes and actions of prejudice are completely unacceptable, and that children and the truth are worth fighting for. During that great time of trial and testing, while I was without a job and my name was marred, God amazingly blessed and we added two more children that we fostered and then adopted, with finalization occurring not long after the trial as we were moving into our new house. A new job would soon come as a manager of a care facility for adults with special needs, and the adoptions would explode, mostly involving children with special needs. A sibling group of three from California, giving us 9, followed by two brothers from Texas, gave us 11 children. Our family was rapidly growing, and I was loving adoption and fatherhood, and loving the big family life. A little darling girl with Down Syndrome, Julianne, came next from Texas, followed a couple years later by Cody, from the same foster home as Julianne, to give us 13. That is the number of children in our home right now, a beautiful mixture of Caucasian, African-American, Hispanic, and Hispanic-Asian children. The diagnoses include such things as developmental delays, MR, autism, fetal-alcohol syndrome, cerebral palsy, reactive attachment disorder, and Down Syndrome. And some children are considered "typical." The world of adoption involves children of all ethnicities, backgrounds, diagnoses, and ability levels. I invite you to open your heart and eyes to children with special needs -- they too are at the heart of God...whatever we do unto the least of these, we do unto Him. There are blessings for families with special needs children that the general society just doesn't realize or experience.
It is largely because of Julianne and her adorable extra chromosome that we are now adopting 5 children from Bulgaria. Yes, God is the God of all nations and He has decided to add a European flavor to our family. I spent nearly a month in Bulgaria earlier this year meeting and spending time with each child, none of which are biologically related and who live in 5 separate orphanages or institutions. Each of the 5 children, like Julianne, has Down Syndrome. My eyes were opened in a new way as I became aware first-hand of the largely deplorable conditions of children with special needs in that nation. Thankfully, we are near the end of this 18-month-long international process -- the adoptions were finalized in Bulgaria earlier this week...they're ours!...and Amanda should be travelling in July to bring them finally home. I'm so excited for them to get here -- I promise you, once you have a child with Down Syndrome, you just want more!
Yes, I could have missed out on all this--but the tender mercies of our Heavenly Father have a way of penetrating hearts like mine with the needs, challenges, and multitude of blessings outside my own little world. On this Father's Day, I encourage you to take a close and prayerful look at the heart of our Heavenly Father -- how He builds families, how He cares for the little ones, how He desires for us to be His hands and feet. We are commanded to care for the orphans, but our action should be motivated out of love, not simply duty. Adoption will change your life, not just the kids' lives. You will understand the love of our Heavenly Father in a deeper way. If He has saved you, you are adopted. I assure you God doesn't regret the process or the price that was paid...for you. If you allow adoption to be a part of the fabric of your family, you will never regret it either. And you'll reap the blessings for all eternity.