By Dawn Ruhl
When Eli and I were married in 2003, we already knew that adoption would very likely be part of our story. We started out the same way so many other couples do, desiring a sweet, tiny baby (or several!) to call our own. However, my infertility had been diagnosed many years before, so we knew that God would be writing our story differently.
Our journey to adoption had a slow start (Which is so kind of the Lord, isn’t it? He gently led us, only showing us what we needed to see at each moment, giving us faith for each step. Had we been able to see where we were headed, we probably would have jumped off that train!). We were broke college kids when we got married, so it took a couple of years for us to begin to think seriously about pursuing adoption. Once Eli graduated and started working, we found our conversations circling back around to the topic more often. I had begun researching our options, and I was eager to share what I was learning.
There are somewhere between 150-200 million orphans in the world; some have lost one parent, some have lost both parents, and some are living separately from their families for a host of heartbreaking reasons. Included in those numbers are the orphans here in our own communities - 123,000 children are waiting for new forever families, while an additional 340,000 kids are caught up in the foster care system. There is clearly a need for families to rise up and participate in the redemptive work of adoption. But when the needs are so vast, how do we know where to start?
As our conversations rolled around, we wrestled with all sorts of questions that are unique to pre-adoptive families. Could we really, truly love a child that wasn’t born to us? If so, what age child should we adopt? What would it be like to have a family comprised of different races? What special needs were we open to considering? What about birth families? What did we think about having a relationship with them? What kind of care would they be receiving? Was God calling us to adopt domestically or internationally? How much was all of this going to cost?
While all those questions were overwhelming, it was that last one that we just kept getting hung up on. We had the same conversation over and over. I believed that adoption was something that God was clearly calling our family to, and I trusted that He would provide all that we needed to complete it, so we should just get started. Eli felt the weighty responsibility of providing and caring for our family, and it seemed unwise to jump into such an expensive endeavor without so much as a solid plan, much less a chunk of cash. (Adoption costs vary widely. Adopting through the state foster care system is virtually free, while international adoptions can swing all the way up to $40,000.) Around this time, God provided a full-time job for me (a job I wasn’t remotely looking for), and we were able to put my paycheck straight into savings for well over a year. It wasn’t instant, total financial provision (which is what I had been looking for), but it was absolutely provision from the Lord (which is what Eli had been looking for), and it was enough to get us really moving on answering the rest of those questions.
Some of the questions had easy answers. God was so gracious to teach us about what it means to truly love, assuring us that love is not bound by genetics. Once we finally came to a place of peace on that issue, we knew that race was not an issue for us either, that we would love whatever color child God had planned for us. We had heard that minority kids were harder to place, so we decided to pursue a black child for our family. That still didn’t answer the domestic vs. international question, but it did rule out a few continents! We felt our hearts drawn to Africa during that season, and, at that time, Ethiopia was really the only African country processing adoptions. As we prayed and prayed about whether we were supposed to adopt from Ethiopia or the US, we talked through our desires and expectations for the age of child we wanted to add to our family. It became clear that we really wanted to have the experience of having a newborn, so we decided to pursue a private, domestic, newborn adoption our first time around, and then revisit Ethiopia when we were ready to add to our family again. (Isn’t this the way that God leads us in most things? Gently helping us sift through our hopes and desires, slowly and kindly closing doors and changing our hearts to keep us headed toward all that He has for us.)
We felt so triumphant in finally making that decision, sure that our baby was just around the corner! But then we had to choose an agency to work with. And we had to have a home study done (three visits with a social worker, in our home, with mountains of paperwork and a bazillion questions, ranging from our childhood memories to the state of our marriage and finances to our parenting plan for the child we didn’t even know yet). And we had to make a pretty little book about our family for the agency to show to birth moms who were considering making an adoption plan. And once all that was done, we had to wait.
And wait. And wait. If I had known how hard that waiting was going to be, I probably would’ve signed up to make 50 of those books! By the time we finally reached the waiting stage (after 6 months of paperwork), we had been married for 5 ½ years. We were in the thick of all of our friends becoming parents, and we were so eager to experience that joy for ourselves! It would ultimately be another year before the joy would be ours, and it was a hard year, particularly for me. It was a year of learning that good, God-given desires can still become idols, and that peace and joy are only to be found in the Giver of good gifts. We certainly didn’t walk that road perfectly, but it was, in retrospect, a beautiful season of learning to trust in God’s faithfulness and sovereignty - truths that we would need to draw from deeply later in our adoption journey. And while weeping may have lasted for a night (or year!), joy absolutely came with the morning! (Ps 30:5)
On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, in 2009, we finally got the phone call we had been waiting for for so long. Birth parents in Arkansas had made the courageous decision to place their baby girl for adoption, and they had chosen our family for her. They said goodbye to her 5 days later, when they placed her in our arms. We named that sweet, little, 2-week-old bundle Esther - after a girl who was adopted, whose days were ordained "for such a time as this," whom God used in a mighty way to rescue His people - and we began the next leg of our journey: parenting!