In 1996, Frank and I learned that we could not have biological children. That was the very first of my plans for my life over which I lost control, and it was the first event in a series of events that began a 16 year process of me learning to let God have his way in my life.
When we were in Uganda in 2006, we attended a wedding celebration. It is quite an extraordinary event in comparison with American weddings. Gifts are brought by the groom and his friends and presented to the bride’s father. The gifts ranged from shoes and clothing and sugar and grains and vegetables and drinks to live-stock. As we sat and looked on, the groom’s friends brought the final gift–a goat– down the long dirt hill into the event tent where the bride’s father and all the guests were seated. The goat was not happy about this. At the top of the hill, he dug his heels in, and was dragged, heels dug into the dirt the whole way, down that dirt hill. It certainly brought laughter from the guests. That goat paints a pretty good picture of me for the last 16 years.
We did decide in 1997 to adopt children, but for a variety of reasons, we have not yet. God began teaching me some new things: some from His Word, and others from the words or actions of those around me. Four such instances stand out in my mind as pivotal.
First, my friend Nikki, who adopted 2 little girls from Russia, shared with me that before they had been assigned their first child, she and her husband had decided they would take the first child offered to them. In other words, they would not wait for the child they thought they wanted. They would let God choose for them. “Daring”, I thought, “but, I don’t intend to relinquish that much control.” Later, I passed up the first little Russian girl offered to us simply because she was diabetic and slightly overweight. As God would have it, the day after we declined, Russia closed their adoptions for the next year. At the time I thought little of it. Years later, I think I was much like the prophet Jonah who did not want to follow God to Nineveh. And Russia threw me off the boat.
Second, our adoption agency director, Ron Stoddart (Nightlight Christian Adoption Agency), talked with me on the phone one day. He told me about his family: two biological children, and two adopted from Russia. He was answering some of my adoption concerns–how did their children adjust, had they overcome whatever trauma was in their past, did he have any difficulties with them now? He told me that if an outsider were to sit at their dinner table with their 4 adult children, no one would know who was adopted and who was biological.
He went on to say, “Did we meet their needs? I think so. Did they meet our needs? Well, that’s not why God gives us children.” I heard that, but I couldn’t comprehend or absorb it. I wanted children who were cute and sweet and healthy and young, and looked like Frank and me–i.e. Caucasian. Previously, we had also turned down the opportunity to adopt 3 children from Sudan because they were the wrong color and size. The children were a little older and I thought, having never been a mother before, that I would feel like a camp counselor and not like a mom. At the time, it seemed reasonable to me to consider my own needs and feelings. It also did not occur to me that the God who IS love could create in me anything was lacking in maternal love, or that His strength could be perfected in my weakness.
Third, my friend Drea has 9 children– 4 biological children, and 5 adopted children (from Russia, China and Ethiopia). One day several years ago, we met at Starbucks. I was explaining to her my very logical reasoning of why I wanted Caucasian children. You see, Drea has biological children that look like her and her husband. But I don’t. I wanted children that looked like they could have been biologically mine. I thought that was a very reasonable desire. I thought little African children were some of the cutest babies on the planet, but they don’t look like they could be my children. Drea said to me, “Sometimes God’s ideals are not our ideals. Is it possible that your ideals do not match God’s ideals?” I think it was that day, or maybe that week, that I decided she was right. Frank of course had long been wanting to adopt at least one child from every continent on the earth. This was just my issue.
So with that, I was finally ready to adopt children from Africa. We were involved with ministry in Uganda, so it just made sense. I decided that I would like to adopt a sibling group–after all, Frank and I are getting older and how many couples are willing to adopt a sibling group? I thought this was good progress…until…
I read my friend Amy’s blog. She and her husband decided to adopt a child from Ethiopia. They wanted to adopt a baby. One day as I was reading one of her posts, I read these words: “All along we thought we’d wanted an infant boy from Ethiopia but God started to change and move our hearts with what we saw in Uganda. So much so that I started to check out the Waiting Children’s List on our agency’s website. (For those of you new to adoption lingo that just means kids who are waiting for adoption due to older age or medical conditions…as my friend Sarah pointed out – the least of these.)” (As a side note, the post Amy wrote a year later about their son Tariku, is one of my all-time favorites.)
When I read what Amy had written, I knew. I knew I had rejected the “least of these.” All this time my stubborn heart had wanted to choose my own child(ren). I even wanted to choose my own sibling group, and I had rejected Jesus himself when I rejected “the least of these.” I was willing to adopt, and from a human point of view, that’s not awful. But it’s not complete surrender. And anything less than complete surrender is awful—because it’s not God’s best.
Over the years, as I’ve watched several friends of mine take orphans and widows into their homes–the Hublers, the Custers, the Richards, and Katie Davis (whom I have not personally met, but whose blog I have read cover to cover). I’ve learned that there are more complete ways to surrender, better ways to love, more things to let go of. Katie, at age 18, said yes to God and adopted an 11-year-old girl…and then adopted 12 more children after that. If anyone had the right to feel like a camp counselor and refuse to take in children, I think Katie could have claimed that right. But she embraced the children who needed a mother and I learned from a teenager how to be a better woman. I’m thankful for the challenging words that were sown in my life by each of these people and families. Whether they realized it or not, they were teaching me. I’m ready now to take any child. To say yes to God. Anytime, anyplace. YES.
A final piece in the puzzle of surrender fell into place for me when reading David Platt’s book, Radical Together. He wrote:
“I will not soon forget the day in August 2005 when my wife, Heather, and I fled New Orleans. It was the day before Hurricane Katrina struck. We were used to hurricane warnings, and it was common to leave the city for a couple of days and then return.
So we grabbed some extra clothes, hopped in the car, and drove out of town. Little did we know that this would be the last time we would see our house—and our neighborhood—in the same condition.
Two days later we were serving at an evacuation shelter. We had set up a projector and a screen so people could see the news coming in from the city. After we had arranged everything, we sat down to watch the live feeds. That’s when we saw it. As the news helicopter flew over one drowned neighborhood after another, we suddenly recognized the gas station (or what used to be a gas station) just a couple of blocks from our house. As the camera continued to pan across the lake like landscape, we saw our neighborhood engulfed in water up to the rooftops. And then we glimpsed a rooftop we thought was ours…
We sat in stunned silence, our thoughts racing. Home for us had just been swept away.
Like others who lost everything in the flood, Heather and I experienced shock and disbelief. Then we felt confused. In the days that followed, we talked and we prayed and we wondered when “normal” was going to return.
But now we see it in a new light altogether.
For us, the flood depicts the radical call of Christ to Christians and the church. When Jesus calls us to abandon everything we have and everything we are, it’s almost as if he is daring us to put ourselves in the flood plain. To put all our lives…, all our property and all our possessions, all our plans and all our strategies, all our hopes and all our dreams in front of the levee and then to ask God to break it. To ask God to sweep away whatever he wants, to leave standing whatever he desires, and to remake our lives according to his will. (pg 10-12)”
I read this just over a year ago and knew I had to do it–to let God sweep it all away–all my hopes, my dreams, my plans for my life. Not only my plans for children, but all my plans. I think what Platt was communicating with this story is similar to what Peter was instructing when he said, ” Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” I had set my hope in part on my future with Christ, but Peter doesn’t suggest partial focus. He suggests full focus of all of my hope on the future salvation–not on the children we will have or not have, the color of the children, the age, or the health of the children. Not on my dreams of the timing of if or when we will adopt them and finally have our own family. Not on my plans for our business or my plans to earn income. Not on my plans of where we will live or how I think we should serve God. Not on my plans for how I use my time.
Since reading those words from Platt, it has taken a year of surrendering plans, one at a time. I can’t honestly say that I’ve ever surrendered my hopes and dreams willingly. It is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance, and I have seen the kind hand of God in my life. He has allowed circumstances (for my own good) that facilitated surrender. I feel that finally, this year–actually just last month–I let go of the last plan that I was clutching as “mine.”
I don’t know why I struggle against God. The freedom that comes once I follow Him is so amazing. It’s not worth digging my heels in and screeching my way down a long dirt road.
In the devotional “My Utmost for His Highest,” (which my friend Nancy gave me in 1988, and which I have read daily for at least 5 of the last 25 years–amazed that it still continues to challenge me in new ways each year), Oswald Chambers said in 1915:
“Surrender is not the surrender of the external life, but of the will; when that is done, all is done. There are very few crises in life; The great crisis is the surrender of the will. God never crushes a man’s will into surrender, He never beseeches him, He waits until the man yields up his will to Him. That battle never needs to be re-fought.” Sept 13
I write notes in the margins each year as they apply to me. In the margin of September 13th, I wrote, “YAY!!! 2012, this battle is over.” Other battles have been won in the past, and there will be more battles in the future. But for now, I am thankful for the respite from this battle and the encouraging words and wisdom from Chambers, written nearly a century ago: that this specific battle of surrender of the will, need not be fought again.