Was it four years ago or thirty years ago that I began my journey toward motherhood? How much longer will I wait until I can share life with my child? Where is she and what is she going through? These are the questions that made me tear up as I drove to church on Mother’s Day.
I’ve known the warmth and security of a mother’s love my whole life. I can’t imagine a life where that relationship was threatened or absent or stolen away. Because of the love I have received, I’ve grown into a woman with a lot of love to give and I want to share my life with a child. I specifically feel called to share my home with a child who has lost her or his parents. I’ve thought about adopting since I was a teenager. I don’t really know why it had such personal significance to me when I was young. I had two adopted cousins, but they lived far away and I didn’t know them very well. As I’ve aged, my compassion for the parentless has grown. Several years ago, I felt almost plagued by the thought of all the children needing homes. Here’s a snippet from an email I wrote to friends in January of 2008:
For several years, actually, I have felt this gentle prodding to consider adopting an older child, one who has little chance of adoption because of his or her age, but regardless needs a loving person to become their family. Over the past year, the yearning to share my life with a child has grown exponentially to the point of pretty much every time I see a child, I feel this huge tug on my heart. This fall I was challenged by two people to allow myself to listen to this desire, to follow it and see where it is leading me…to consider it as a desire that God has given to me.
I spent a year in discernment, along the way becoming a certified foster parent in Pennsylvania. The whole process was really all about listening. What I heard in the end was God saying to me, “Corrie, I’m not limiting you. You are limiting yourself.” Though I live my life, in many ways, unafraid of being unconventional (I’m a single, female, evangelical pastor, after all) but adopting a child as a single parent tested even my own capacity for courage and boldness. I took a few deep breaths and reminded myself that there was plenty of time to prepare for this new adventure. For the past two years I have been saving money and praying over our future. I hope to begin the formal process by summer of 2012.
While I wait, the uncertainty and fear that are daily emotions for at-risk children are often on my mind. My concern grows when I see statistics and facts like these:
- In 2009, 700,000 children were in the United States foster care system.
- 65% of those children had been in the system for over a year.
- Only 57,000 of them were adopted out of foster care.
- An additional 115,000 were classified as “waiting” to be adopted.
- The mean age of children waiting for adoption is seven and a half years old. (According to the US Department of Health and Human Sciences, Administration for Children and Families.)
A public adoption through the child welfare system in Pennsylvania would have cost me only $3,500 in legal and court fees, most of which I would have redeemed through federal tax credits. If I’d wanted to select my child based on their race, gender, family of origin and/or medical history, then I would have been recommended for private adoption, which can cost around $10,000. If I only wanted a white infant, I could expect to spend upwards of $35,000. International adoptions can cost even more.
I’m really just looking for a child who needs a home, a child that I connect with, and a child that I will be a good fit for as a parent; everything else is negotiable. What shocked me as I did my research was that adoption, as an industry, treats children like a commodity. Demand determines their price. Those healthy white babies are certainly intrinsically valuable, but not “worth” $30,000 more than a mixed race infant or a school age child, or a child with a physical disability. It’s heartbreaking when you realize that there are thousands of “free” children that will remain orphans due to characteristics that our society has deemed undesirable.
A few years ago I befriended a young, black woman who was forced into the system when she was an adolescent. Her mother was sent to prison for life; her father is unknown. She was moved from one foster home to another until she aged-out of the system at 18. I met her because she lived in the dorm that I supervised. When the college shut down for vacations, she literally had nowhere to go. She had no family to go to and no former foster families that would take her in. She came to my office to ask for my help in solving “a small problem.” That’s not a small problem, it’s a travesty.
Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. (Isaiah 1:17) In the Old Testament, the prophets were constantly giving encouragement and instructions about how God’s people should live their lives. Generally, it was a time when their behavior was unethical, amoral and far from pleasing to God. Read any of the prophets and you will run across these great little zingers, like the one above, that sum up Godly living. In biblical times, children, women, the elderly and slaves were the most vulnerable people groups; they had no economic value in patriarchal society. Orphans and widows were of particular concern to God because if you had no husband or father, then you had no access to food, clothing or shelter.
We live thousands of years later and many things have changed, but the plight of orphans is still very real. Imagine the emotional trauma of losing your parents at the age of five. Maybe they beat you or neglected you or they couldn’t shake their addiction. Or maybe they died, suddenly, in an accident. Now every day begins with a question – who do I belong to? – and a thousand other uncertainties stem from that fundamental worry. Will I be warm? Will I be hurt? What will I eat? Where will they send me? How long will they keep me? Will they be nice? Can I take my teddy bear? Will I have friends?
These are my questions: where is my daughter? What does she love to do? What is her favorite color? Does she like music or does she love to read as much as I do? These are the things I’m curious about. I pray regularly for her safety and about the risks and trauma she might be facing. Mother’s Day was no exception. I pray through all the possible circumstances of her life, but mostly I pray for her protection and for patience while we wait to become a family.