(Orphan Sunday inspired me to think of our adoption story, which begins here.)
Finally, I had to wait no longer. Johnny said yes, and wrote me a letter full of his thoughts on the matter. It is long, but you too have waited to hear this.
With confidence in the all-sufficient future grace of God, I am ready to move ahead with the adoption of Talitha Ruth. I want to thank you that during these years, when your heart has yearned to adopt a daughter, you have not badgered me or coerced me. You have been wonderfully patient. You have modeled faith in the sufficiency of prayer. You have always expressed support of me and my ministry even if we should never adopt. You have been reasonable in all our discussions and have come forth with your extensive rationale only when asked. You have honored my misgivings as worthy of serious consideration.
I realize more than ever that “the mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” I am persuaded that this decision to adopt honors God more than not adopting. To my perspective it seems to be the path that will “spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples.” I believe it is the path of the greatest love. And therefore I have confidence that God is pleased with it.
I choose it not under constraint or with any reservation of commitment. I relinquish every thought that, because you initiated this idea, you will bear blame for the pain it brings. As with our choice to have children in the first place and with our choice to go to Germany and our choice to leave Bethel and enter the pastorate there is a common and united commitment to all that God will be for us in this path, including any “frowning providence” that he plans to sanctify to us. I believe our eyes are open, though we have learned that the toothache expected and the toothache experienced are not the same. We have come through enough to believe that God’s future grace will be sufficient. His mercies are new every morning and there will be mercies for every weight and wonder on this new path of our lives.
I thank God for you. I enter with you gladly on this path. Whether we live to see our daughter grown or not, we will have done well to take her in. Life is very short, whether 12 hours, like Ashley Hope, or 50 years like me, or 76 years like my father, or 94 years like Crystal Anderson. What matters is not that we do all we might have done or all we dreamed of doing, but that while we live, we live by faith in future grace and walk in the path of love. The times are in God’s hands, not ours.
With this common conviction we will, God willing, embrace our new daughter and give ourselves, with all the might that God inspires in us, to love her into the kingdom. May the Lord establish the plans of our hearts, and bring Talitha Ruth, and her future husband, into deep and lasting fellowship with Christ. May she be an ebony brooch of beauty around your aging neck, and a crown of purity and joy on your graying head.
* * *
Here are the final factors as I saw them and how a I weighed them as I wrote to myself in my journal.
1. Most importantly, and without which I would not be considering this matter seriously, is Noël’s heart’s desire. She has expressed it as the closest thing to a calling that she has ever experienced. She expresses openness to not doing it, and I believe means it, though I know it would be a great loss and a kind of death that would be grieved over for some time. In fact, as I compare the death that I must die and the death that Noël must die if we go one way or the other, it seems to me that my death is 1) not as sure as her death; that is, it is not certain that I would be less productive in writing, nor that the pain of this choice would be disadvantageous to the ministry and the glory of the Lord; and 2) even if my death came to pass, it is not as deep as her death would be. This is the main issue for me -- how shall I love my wife. If I say yes to adoption, it is mainly a yes to my wife’s longings and her sense of calling -- a yes that I may never turn against her in any form of blame, but rather a yes that becomes my yes, since we are one flesh.
2. Another way to say this is that adopting a daughter would give Noël the same privilege I have enjoyed, namely, the privilege of raising a person in her own female likeness. It is a precious thing to bring up a child with a view to building your God-given vision of manhood or womanhood into the child. Noël has not been able to build all of herself into our sons, because they are growing up to be men and not women. There are dimensions of human personhood that are unique to womanhood which I believe Noël will flourish in nurturing in a daughter.
3. Adopting would be a way of pouring our lives -- our vision of God and life -- into a child in the hope and prayer that she would grow up to make a great contribution to the advancement of the kingdom of Christ -- to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples. One of our reasons for having children back in the days when many were saying that world population did not warrant more than one or two kids, was that we would bring them up such that they would not be a drain on the world, but a blessing to the world. So it would be my prayer and effort in this case.
4. Adopting would model for the church and the world sacrificial risks of love, and faith in future grace. It would affirm and embrace sacrificial love above comfort and ease. It would declare that the latter years of life are not for coasting and ease.
5. It would actually cast us onto future grace in a way that would compel us to lay hold on God for more of himself that we would have otherwise known. There are other ways to do this. We could become missionaries to some hard place, for example, and thus cast ourselves on God more fully that way. But this is the way God seems to be leading Noël; and to know more of God’s sufficiency is a precious thing.
6. Adopting in this case would affirm and embrace racial reconciliation as an issue to be lived with and struggled with for the rest of our lives. It would write -- with blood, as it were -- the issue of racial reconciliation high on our life’s agenda.
7. In adopting a black child we would embrace and affirm the value of personhood in God’s image above racial distinctives. This is a crucial message for our day of cultural pride that may tend to minimize the utter uniqueness of humanity over against all other beings with a value as created in God’s image that is infinitely more important than any racial or cultural trait. We would be saying that being a human person is so indescribably important that it should take priority over race and culture in governing what is good for a child.
8. Adopting a child who has been painfully given up by her parents would be one clear way of obeying the Biblical call to care for the orphan: “This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27). Job’s example is inspiring and compelling: “If I have kept the poor from their desire, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail, or have eaten my morsel alone, and the orphan has not shared it (But from my youth he [the orphan] grew up with me as with a father, and from infancy I guided her [the widow]) . . . (Job 31:16-18). We are not all required to adopt those who have no parents, or who are cut off from their parents, but as a church body we are to take up this challenge. That means that in the body of Christ, God must be able and willing to burden members of the body with this specific way of doing what the Bible says is needed.
9. By adopting this child we would embrace and affirm the preciousness of life over against the death-dealing industry of abortion. Talitha’s birth mother chose against abortion. We choose to affirm that choice. By this we put our money and our time and our lives where our mouth is. There are other ways to be real and serious about fighting abortion. But here is one that is necessary and therefore some families must do it. To do it is a good and powerful thing.
10. We would grow in our understanding of human personhood in the image of God by rearing a female person and not just male persons. There are experiences of becoming a woman that are different from becoming a man. We will be the richer and wiser for experiencing these things first hand. My voice in the world of manhood/womanhood relationships will be more insightful, I think, if we raise a girl for the glory of God.
11. We would grow in our understanding of God’s adopting love, that draws the very different into his family. I am the beneficiary of adoption. It was a precious and merciful thing the Father has done for me, taking me into his family. It is the sort of thing he delights in. Surely the ancient Jewish Midrash on Esther 2:5 is right in saying, “Who is he then who at any time shows mercy? Say: it is he who brings up an orphan in his house” (TDNT, Vol. 5, p. 488).
12. I am hopeful that my longing for being more fruitful in evangelism would be fulfilled in part by this adoption, in that it would open conversations with unbelievers, and would perhaps give us a voice of authenticity in circles of unbelievers that we would not otherwise have dealings with.
13. Noël’s ministry of writing and speaking would be enriched by this adoption because, as with mine, there would be a radical edge to it that mere, ordinary middle-aging would not have. Addressing issues of parenting, racial reconciliation, abortion, etc. would have a cutting edge quality and authenticity.
On the other side of the coin there are concerns:
1. I will probably not have as much freedom for study and writing and speaking and other forms of ministry, if we commit ourselves to parenting the young for the next 20 years.
2. There will be more emotional strain in our lives and greater burdens because love brings pain with every new person loved deeply, as each struggles with sickness and sin and Satan and danger -- both parent and child. This would be compounded by the fact that a black child will face unusual crises of self-identity, and in her crucial years our energy may be less as we move through our sixties than it is now .
3. There will be more stress and strain in the attitudes of other people that we would have to deal with because the child is black. Family and others may be disapproving and withdrawn.
4. There will be more financial stress.
As I look at these two lists I cannot escape the conclusion that the potential for good in the “pro” list far outweighs the potential for ill in the “con” list. The cons are all pain and pressure issues, not issues of negative moral effects or sin. But the pros are mainly potentials of moral and spiritual good.
That my ministry of writing and study could be impeded could be seen as the hindrance of a morally and spiritually good thing. But that is very iffy. Jonathan Edwards had eleven children. His last seven years in the woods of Connecticut were his most productive, and he had children at that point in his life who were very small, not to mention that fact that when he was 47 he was removed from his pastorate and accepted a ministry among the Indians in a remote forest village.
Manifestly, productivity hangs far more on the wonderful and inscrutable providences of God and on the energizing work of the Holy Spirit and the pointedness of vision, than it does on our family circumstances. The Lord could end my productivity without children in one flick of his finger. And with adopted children, he could double it. May the Lord do what seems good to him.
(NOW the adoption story begins: to be continued)