dave ainsworth
san francisco, CA

husband, father,
christian pastor,
human being

"No one prepared me for this."

Guys don't often talk on the phone late at night. When they do, you can bet it's serious. 

A year earlier, my friend and his wife made the momentous decision to adopt two children -- a brother and sister -- from Africa. They completed mountains of paperwork, were scrutinized by case workers and diplomats, solicited help from anyone who would listen, and built up their bank account only to empty it back out.

Then, at last, they were paired with two beautiful and desperate orphans. Immediately, these children had homes in my friends' hearts. And after a long, expensive international flight, they would have homes in their arms, too!

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Except that flight never came. With six months of near silence, my friend called me -- sad, exasperated, powerless, lost. Their case had been held up in the courts with little explanation or sympathy. Other children had leap-frogged them and were already in their new homes.

In the meantime, his heart was dutifully making room for these children, making their absence even more painful. His two biological children were beginning to doubt the others' existence. His wife was sad and worried for their health and safety every day.

"No one prepared me for this." Which is not to say that no one told him it could take awhile. Every adoption orientation includes timelines with wide ranges. The problem is that "three to twelve months" can be read much quicker than those months will be experienced. My friend was prepared for the possibility of waiting, but not for the experience of waiting. And waiting is hard, especially when you're waiting for children who need you like they need food and water.

Orphan Care Is Not What It Seems

Powerlessness is part of orphan care. No one knows this going into it. From the outside, adoptive and foster parents seem so strong and brave. "You're faith is so strong!" "She's so lucky to have you guys!" "I could never do what you're doing!" From the inside, though, life doesn't feel so victorious.

At some point, all foster/adoptive parents realize they're not in control. We are as weak as the orphans in our care. I had never felt so powerless with my biological kids. Ask any Dad about his kids' future, and he'll swear on his own life that they'll never lack food and shelter. But I could make no guarantee for Trinity, and it was devastating. Her long-term well-being was entirely out of my hands. I distinctly remember Maggie crying to me after an early foster status hearing, "I didn't sign up for this." During the final months of our case, for the first time in my life, I suffered mild depression. For months, we lived through sadness. 

Maggie was right. This wasn't part of our plan. When we began to pursue adoption, I equated adoptive parents with super heroes. I'd seen the Madonna and Brangelina stories. I'd heard testimonies in church. Adoptions happen when stable, healthy, loving, relatively-wealthy American families swoop in to rescue sad, poor, needy orphaned children to live happily ever after. So, I asked myself what a lot of people ask before adopting, "Am I strong enough? Can I handle this?"

Super Heroes Need Not Apply

If you're considering adoption, praise God! There are so many children who need to be adopted. But I want to warn you. Orphan care is not for super heroes. There's no swooping. No fight scenes. Nothing happens quickly. Mostly, you'll just wait. 

You'll wait for paperwork to process. You'll wait for family members to be investigated. You'll wait for judges to make decisions. You'll wait for lawyers to appeal those decisions (i.e., three teams of lawyers: yours, the state's, and the child's). And then, once the adoption is final, you'll continue waiting. You'll wait for your child to open up his thoughts to you. You'll wait for her to feel safe in her own home. You'll wait for him to trust that he's loved. You'll wait for her to love in return. If this is the life of a super hero, it's really lame.

That night, my friend felt like God was holding him back. They had given their hearts and lives to care for these children. He and his wife were totally prepared to be strong for them. They had everything these kids needed, but no kids. "God calls us to love orphans. Why won't God let us care for orphans?"

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Waiting Is Not Nothing

But God never called super-heroes to care for orphans. Round-house kicks to bureaucrats are rarely part of God's plan. "Pure and undefiled religion is this… to visit widows and orphans in their distress." Visit? Not exactly the dramatic rescue plan I was imagining. What do you do when you visit someone? You just sit with them. You go where they live, you sit, and you wait.

As hard as it is, waiting is an essential part of orphan care. When you wait, you are visiting the orphan in her distress. Part of her distress is bureaucracy and red-tape and diplomatic turf-wars. Part of her distress is brain chemistry and PTSD and culture shock. 

When you wait, you tell her, "I'm with you no matter what happens. I'm going to interrupt my middle-class life and set aside my first-world standards because you're worth more than me. I'm going to endure all the regulations and waiting periods. I'll face the injustices of prejudice and bribery. I'll do whatever it takes. I'm going to sit here with you till we're done. We may be oceans apart, but I'm with you. I'll cry with you. I'll be angry with you. I'll pray with you. I'll join you in the mess until God rescues you from it. I'll never leave. I'll always be here. I love you."

Why Wait?

But wouldn't it be better if God made the whole process a lot quicker? Why does it take so long? He's in control. He hears our prayers. Why am I still waiting? 

There are thousands of answers to those questions. Most are beyond our comprehension, hidden in the Providence of God. But in Scripture, God does give a few answers for us to hold onto. Here's just one.  

When we wait for orphans, we enter into their distress just like Christ entered into ours. Jesus, the Ultimate Superman, did not swoop in from heaven to rescue us. Our salvation wasn't neat and tidy like that. Instead, Jesus was born a baby in a dirty manger. He lived the life of a poor bastard child. He overcame those circumstances to become the greatest Man who ever lived, only to die in complete disgrace. He worked and waited thirty years with much suffering to accomplish our salvation.

He was made like us in every way, including in our weakness. Even now, after our adoption has been "finalized," Jesus Christ remains with us. Having us made us new, he waits for us to be made whole. Indeed, He is forever with us. He'll never set aside his flesh. He is forever Emmanuel -- God With Us.

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The greatest need for your orphaned child, and every child, is to know Jesus. And not just the pretty storybook Jesus, but the Jesus who left the riches of heaven to join them in their hurt and shame. More than food and shelter. More than hugs and kisses. They need to hear, understand, and believe God's love for them -- expressed most perfectly in the coming and dying of Christ on their behalf.

In God's universe, waiting is not wasted time. By all means, don't stop praying for the details! Do everything your agency tells you to do! Join your child's longing to be rescued! But don't begrudge the waiting. Waiting is not nothing. In a tangible way, you are already parenting your child. Through you, he is beginning to see the God Who Waits.

Life is footage

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