Adoptive Parenting Columnist Heidi Hess Saxton
Catholic Mom Columns
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God Says, “Choose.”
My friend Genevieve Kineke recently
sent me a link to a New York Times story,
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:
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.
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
“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!
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