Prayer, Patience & Puzzle Pieces
Special Needs Adoption - Part II (Read Part I here.)
My fearless, vision-minded husband had always spoken of adoption. It wasn’t idealistic, newlywed dreaming – he meant it. I’d had two challenging pregnancies, so with minimal convincing, I agreed. For reasons difficult to articulate, we felt God calling us to a baby girl from China, a healthy baby girl. Specials needs adoptions were for special people. People who were not us. The year was 2006, and our biological children were five and two-and-a -half when we began our Chinese paper-chase. I had dreams of this little girl with scrumptious cheeks and almond eyes. Her name would be Alexis, my middle name. I began praying for her and our hearts were growing quite attached to a child we didn’t even know. Three seemed like a totally manageable number of children. We would bring her home, and our family would be complete.
We diligently chipped away at the monumental process that is international adoption. Many months later with our dossier almost complete and ready to send to China, we received some unexpected news. I was pregnant. It hurts my heart to recall my initial response. It’s not that another biological pregnancy wasn’t welcome, certainly it was a joy and a blessing. The sorrow came because I assumed it meant that we had to let go of China. This little girl in my prayers was slipping away. Certainly our hands would be full after a new baby. Did we misunderstand God’s call? The sudden change in “our plan” left us incredibly confused.
“For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to Him.”
I Samuel 1:27
We put the China adoption on hold and had a beautiful baby girl. She was the mini-me I never knew I needed and I can’t imagine our family without her. Life was busy and full. Our surprise baby was two years old when the Holy Spirit began prompting again. But during our pregnancy hiatus, the Chinese adoption landscape had changed dramatically and while special needs adoptions were on the rise, the timeline for healthy babies had grown to almost five years.
We weren’t getting any younger and neither were our children, so after many questions and much prayer, we decided to pursue a more timely adoption from Ethiopia. It seemed like a good fit for our family. We were excited about Ethiopia, but our hearts, minds, and finances were still invested in China and letting go felt unbearable. I had been certain of God’s call and that there was a little girl who belonged with us. We struggled with the decision for several weeks, thinking that choosing Ethiopia meant leaving China permanently.
In the weeks following I began to hear God saying, “Why must you choose one child? Why not both?” But my conscientious husband was already concerned about our finances and also with the pressures of being a good father to so many kids. I didn’t dare mention my thoughts. Certainly the idea of five children would send him over some sort of emotional edge. He would never agree. Then one day while traveling in the car, this wise, obedient man turned to me and said, “Why don’t we do both?”
We remained in the queue in China and less than a year later we went to Ethiopia and brought home a nine-month old, healthy baby boy, Caleb. It was wonderful to even up our family mix with another male and he added an incredible energy that we desperately needed. But as the wait for healthy children in China continued to grow, our stubborn hearts began to turn toward the idea of a special needs adoption. We began researching the list of special needs. We had been given a piece of paper from our agency on which we were to select the diagnoses we would be willing to consider. It was terrifying. Agreeing to some conditions and not to others was incredibly uncomfortable. It felt as though we were playing God. We were paralyzed with indecision and the list sat blank for months.
We had officially begun updating our expired Chinese paperwork when unexpected news shook everything that we knew. Our oldest daughter was diagnosed with cancer. It was devastating and all of life was put on hold while we battled the beast that many know too well. Layered in our grief over her illness was sorrow that our Alexis was gone forever. Simply breathing and existing felt impossibly hard. Adoption was out of the question. Anything beyond living moment to moment was unthinkable.
Mercifully, our daughter survived. It was a year of chemotherapy, hospitals, doctors, medications, surgeries, and an amputation. We were grateful, but we were also worn and weary. It took about three years for our family to recover and reclaim enough hope to begin considering the future. It was at this point that the whispers returned. We pushed them back for a while. Adoption, after walking a child through cancer, could not be a wise choice. We were exhausted and had been through enough. Our medical expenses were already ridiculous. But the Holy Spirit grew more insistent and one glaring difference now existed…this time, it was completely clear to us which boxes we should check on that special needs form.
Because of our journey through cancer and amputation, adopting a child with orthopedic issues appeared to capitalize on the skills we’d acquired during our suffering. We already had a team of therapists, surgeons, and resources. We had grown adept at navigating medical situations and making difficult choices. A child with orthopedic challenges would be a perfect fit. We were matched with a precious little girl with bilateral club feet. As our trip to China drew close, our world almost collapsed once again with what would have been strike number three, we’re out. I had a cancer scare and health crisis of my own that led to surgery just one month before our departure. Thankfully it was a false alarm and I fought through a speedy recovery, because at that point, there was nothing that was going to keep us from this child.
In early 2016, we brought home our Chinese baby girl, Alexis. It had been ten years since we first started the journey to her. When we finally met her for the first time, she was almost two years old and weighed just twelve pounds. She has a condition called arthrogryposis and now at almost four years old, still isn’t walking, although she’s getting closer every day.
I wrestled for years trying to discern God’s voice. We felt so certain he was calling us to adopt, yet our patience was small and we mistook the detours as full stops, mourning each time as if it were over forever. We grew to realize that the longer timetable simply meant, “Not yet.” There are a myriad of undisclosed reasons why God’s timing is not our timing. One ready reason to celebrate God’s plan is that if the wait in China hadn’t been so long, we would never have gone to Ethiopia for Caleb. And, I’m certain that part of our decade long delay was because I wasn’t ready yet. The people we were couldn’t have handled the challenges we have been given today. But God has slowly been preparing our hearts for this broken little one – and it took ten years to do so. She needed parents who weren’t afraid of hospitals, hard decisions, or raising a child who was different. We didn’t start out as that mommy and daddy, but we became them. We have also learned that no matter how our parenting resume reads, we will never be enough, but that if God calls He will equip.
Certainly not everyone must walk through cancer to be qualified for a special needs adoption. But the heart of our story is that if you seek diligently and feel the Holy Spirit moving you, He will give you peace about the next steps. God will use your strengths and gifts to minister to a child who has no hope. And that child will minister to the parts of your soul that still need a little work. It’s like puzzle pieces, made perfectly for only each other. I never imagined our crazy family to look like this or that I would be a mama to five. But God always knew, and He brought us here in spite of ourselves.
Everyone’s story will look a little different, but they are all perfectly written. For us, the pain of life’s darkest valley grew into a way that we could bless a child, two children really. It took us ten years to get to Lexi Mei and our tender God was kind enough to give us Caleb along the way. I’m so thankful we kept pressing forward and didn’t give up before we found these two kids. I shudder at how close we came to missing this, and it would have been a tragedy to allow our fear to keep us from experiencing His faithfulness.
Tiffany Moody and her husband, Patrick, live in Johns Creek, GA and are parents to five children (three biological, two adopted internationally, all planned by God). She champions adoption, loathes childhood cancer, and allocates much of her day toward researching, advocating for, and treating the numerous special medical needs of her kids. Her imaginary free time is spent exercising, writing, coaching young athletes, reading, and taking naps.