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Catholic Adoptive Parenting Columnist Heidi Hess Saxton

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Sometimes God Says, “Choose.”

My friend Genevieve Kineke recently sent me a link to a New York Times story,[1] in which an adoptive mother named Elizabeth Fitzsimons reflects upon going to China to meet her long-awaited daughter, Natalie. Shortly after reaching the orphanage, Elizabeth and her husband learned that little Natalie had a host of unanticipated medical problems.

The Chinese agency gave the couple a choice: The Fitzsimons could take Natalie home – or accept a different baby. They were surprised to find that, even though they had formed an emotional bond with Natalie, they had no legal obligation to take her home with them.

In the end, the couple decided to take Natalie home, regardless of what the future had in store. In this case, the story has a happy ending … many tests and hospital visits later, Natalie turned out to be a happy, healthy little girl. Elizabeth writes:

It’s tempting to think that our decision was validated by the fact that everything turned out O.K. But for me that’s not the point. Our decision was right because she was our daughter and we loved her. We would not have chosen the burdens we anticipated, and in fact we declared upfront our inability to handle such burdens. But we are stronger than we thought.

Difficult Choices

I read Elizabeth’s story with an unsettling combination of admiration and … weariness, I think. This couple chose Natalie, and God’s grace guided them to their “happily ever after.” And yet, what if this story had turned out differently? If the Fitzsimons had chosen to adopt another infant, for example, would it mean that they had refused to follow God’s lead? If Natalie had died as soon as they got her home, would it have meant that they had ignored God’s leading (through the Chinese officials) to redirect their course and choose another infant?

This is an important question for foster parents (and adoptive parents) to consider: Does being docile to God’s will mean submitting our lives to arbitrary – at times less-than-benevolent – human forces?

Is it possible to say “no” to a social worker … or to a particular child … without saying “no” to God? Or do our pre-determined boundaries by definition limit God?

Is there any real difference between rejecting one’s own biological offspring because of a medical condition, and refusing an adoption placement for the same reason? Does embracing “God’s will” preclude us from acknowledging our own limitations?

When we applied to be licensed as foster parents, for example, we said that we did not want children with severe emotional problems to be placed with us, and we wanted to start with a sibling group of two. Three days after our license was approved, our children’s caseworker called and said that she had a six-month-old Caucasian infant – but that we’d also have to take her 2-1/2 year old brother and five-year-old sister. The caseworker was vague on the details about what had brought them into foster care; but she was adamant that we had to take all three of them … or we would get none of them.

And so … we gulped and took them all.

Unfortunately, our story did not have the same tidy ending as that of the Fitzsimons’. Instead, we learned the hard way that some children really do need to be placed in a home without younger children – even their own siblings. (A short time after their older sister was placed with her “forever family,” the original caseworker quit and went to manage a fast food joint. The next caseworker affirmed what we already knew: that the three children should not have been placed together with us in the first place.)

To be sure, God gave us grace to get through those fourteen months together. To this day I’m not quite sure how we managed it. After we asked that the older sister be removed from our home, we were grateful that another couple stepped forward to take her. In time the older brother was adopted as well. Five years later, we can see clearly we made the right choice. Each of the four children has a safe and loving home … and has been positively transformed.

And yet, questions remain: Was it “God’s will” that the older girl be part of our family, as the first social worker had insisted? And by having her moved to another home, were we refusing to embrace God’s plan for our family? Had we merely taken the easy way out? Or was it God’s plan all along that we take care of their older sister until her “real” parents – the ones God had chosen for her from the beginning – were able to take her?

God’s Will vs. Free Choice

For the Christian, an inordinate desire to live “in the center of God’s will” can become a form of bondage. Years ago, before I was Catholic, I attended Bible school at a Christian community in Minneapolis. This is also where I began my publishing career shortly after graduation.

I had been working in the publishing house for a year when I received a “call” to join one of the mission teams, which was starting up a Bible school in Singapore. The leaders of the team needed a “Gal Friday” to watch their children and run assorted errands -- and since one of their teammates was a friend of mine, they immediately concluded that I was the person for the job.

The idea of a term of service in Singapore appealed to my sense of adventure – and yet, I was enjoying the work at hand, learning my trade as an editor. Both options had merit -- but I could not do them both.

“What is God’s will for me here?” I struggled to answer that one. There was no clearly better choice ... and yet I felt paralyzed. For the five years I had lived among this close-knit group, I had come to see God’s hand even in trivial decisions, from what brand of toothpaste to use (nothing by Procter and Gamble) to where to park the car (“Lord, we could use a spot right there in front of the building…”). One night I was working late in the publishing house, and the computer network administrator came by and asked what I was doing. Jim was a mild-mannered, unassuming person, and had a dry sense of humor that reminded me of my father’s. I told him the whole story, and asked what he thought.

“Do you like ice cream, Heidi?” Jim asked. Confused, I nodded. He continued, “Imagine I took my son to the ice cream store and told him he could pick out what flavor he wanted. Now suppose my son said to me, ‘I’m not smart enough to make the decision myself. YOU choose for me, Dad.’ What sort of father would I be, if I went ahead and ordered for him? As his father, I need to teach him how to make adult choices, so he can begin to take care of himself.”

“What does that have to do with my situation?” It was getting late, and morality tales were lost on me at that hour.

“Heidi, sometimes God gives us two valid options, and lets us choose. If you do not see one clear right choice, it may well be that God just wants you to pick. So long as you continue to follow Him with all your heart, He can work with either option.”
Over the years I’ve had opportunities to return to this lesson again and again. In the case of the Fitzsimon family, one can make a convincing case for the idea that it was “God’s will” for Natalie to join that family. But what of the other child, the “faceless” one they did not choose over Natalie? Either way, a child was rescued from a dismal existence. Either way, another child was left behind.

I do not know what I would have done in her shoes. Elizabeth made a truly courageous and faith-filled choice. And yet, it begs the question: Was it “God’s will” for her to become Natalie’s mother, or was it just one of the choices He permits based on our personal preferences, values, and desires?

A mother is a mother is a mother ... we do what is necessary to keep our children safe. In Elizabeth’s case, that meant bringing her daughter home. In my case, it meant relinquishing a child – even though it meant separating her from her biological siblings. Not a fairy-tale ending ... but then, I’ve come to believe that adoption is NEVER God’s first choice for any child. In every adoption there are always three broken hearts: the birth parents’, the child’s – and God’s. He weeps each time a child is produced outside the permanent, loving embrace of a man and woman joined in the sacrament of marriage. Adoption redeems that choice – but it cannot rewrite the past.

Is God Calling You to Become a Foster (or Adoptive) Parent?

Many times someone will say to me, “I’ve thought about becoming a foster parent, but I’m just not sure I can handle _______________.” Or, “my life is already so crazy with the kids I have now!” Or, “my husband isn’t keen on the idea.”

In this final column of the summer, I’d like to leave you with one last thought: “Go ahead … choose.” Whether the choice in question is a marriage partner or a child or a career path, it is the mark of a mature Christian to be able to look at all the options, pray for insight … and step out in faith, trusting God to redirect our steps as necessary. Indeed, parenting (whether biological or adoptive) is the kind of endeavor God generally grants just enough light for the step immediately ahead. If we look too far down the path, we feel anxious and disoriented.

Instead, we can break down the big decision (should we?) into smaller, more manageable ones (adoption, fostering, or sponsorship; boy or girl; school-aged or toddler?). Talk frankly with your spouse about any reservations, and make those questions the starting point for your research. Then take baby steps to get the answers you need.

  • For foster parent candidates: What agencies are in my area, and kinds of programs do they offer? What kind of training is required, and what kind of support do they offer foster parents? Are there foster parent support groups in your area? Are you looking for something short-term, or are you primarily interested in adoption? Do you want a school-aged child, or a toddler or infant? Are you open to a bi-racial or special-needs child, or a sibling group? Talk with other foster parents about their experiences. Attend a prospective foster parent meeting at a couple of the agencies, so you can make an informed decision.
  • For adoptive parent candidates: If you are considering international adoption, consider what part of the world interests you, and what countries have adoption criteria that fit your situation (some countries have age limitations or other restrictions). Talk with other adoptive parents – in person or online – about their experiences. Don’t let cost alone dictate your choice. It’s critical to find a reputable, experienced agency that you can trust.

Dear Heavenly Father: Of all the choices that touch our lives each day, we are most grateful that You have chosen us to be a part of Your “forever family.” Help us to make courageous choices that reflect the life-giving love You have infused within us. In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen!



Heidi Hess Saxton and her husband Craig are adoptive parents of two former foster children. Heidi is editor of "Canticle" magazine (, a publication of Women of Grace ( A convert to the Catholic faith since 1994, Heidi is a graduate student of theology and a voracious blogger for writers (the "Silent Canticle": http:\\ and adoptive parents (http:\\ She also likes to write about small miracles (http:\\ and what she's learned from other people, traversing the miles around the world and across her bookshelves. Her website is

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