“May I ask you a question?” she said.
It was in that moment that this young woman, whose first impression was one of strength, perseverance and vitality, became suddenly transparent, vulnerable and willing to risk it all to get an answer.
“Yes,” I said. “Of course you can.”
“You adopted one of your children, correct?”
“Yes,” I replied. “We adopted our daughter.”
“Do you love her the same as your biological children?”
We had come to her home with the simple mission of delivering some items this young woman’s family was in need of. We didn’t know much of her story. All we did know was what we saw in front of us. She was the mother of two sweet children and we guessed she was expecting a third. Just a few minutes in her company taught us she was a woman who was trying desperately to provide for her family and keep it all together in a world that had clearly dealt her a hand few would bet on. After graciously being invited into her home, my eyes quickly scanned what was an almost empty room, void of any homey comforts. We smiled and filled the emptiness with casual conversation as her little ones carefully stepped around us, exploring what we had brought.
It was when we were saying goodbye and readying ourselves to leave, that she asked the question. In her curiosity, two complete strangers found a common bond. Knowing it wouldn’t necessarily make the decision in front of her any easier, she had to know. She needed confirmation that a couple’s love for a child adopted into a family could equal that of a child born to one.
I felt totally incapable of putting our love for our daughter into words strong enough to ease the fear that was paralyzing this beautiful woman’s heart. It had become all too apparent however, that we were there to deliver much more than material goods.
“I think that is a fear that all adoptive parents have,” I began. “But there are no words to explain how much we love her. If you could just see her with her brothers; the love they have for her is such a gift. She has changed our lives in ways we never thought possible.”
She took a deep breath, exhaled, and simply replied, “Ok, good. Thank you.” We hugged and left, not knowing if our paths would ever cross again. “Dear God,” I prayed as I walked back to our car, “I pray I said enough. Give her wisdom Lord, with whatever decision lays before her.”
Our brief encounter that morning led me to once again consider the fear and uncertainty that must have enveloped the heart of our daughter’s birth mother when she realized she wouldn’t be able to parent her child. I was reminded of the first time she came to our home to visit her daughter, to meet her little girl’s new big brothers and to witness another woman caring for her child. I imagine overwhelmed is an adjective that falls short of describing the feelings that were going on inside of her. There we all sat; my husband and I, our two sons, our daughter, our daughter’s birth mother and the birth mother’s sister. We talked, we laughed, we looked intently upon the beautiful little soul that had brought us all together. Her smiles and giggles broke through the magnitude of heaviness that permeated the room.
Before long, it was time for this selfless woman to say goodbye once again to the small miracle she clearly cherished. I wanted so much to ease the pain I knew she must have been feeling, but all I could do was give her a hug and pray she knew how much we loved her child. There were simply no adequate words to express our deepest gratitude for her trust in us. She gave us her child. We did nothing to deserve her and she had never done wrong by her. In fact, she had done everything right for her. She had given her life and she chose to give that life to another in hopes that this little girl would be blessed with all the support and opportunity she herself was unable to provide.
For quite some time after our daughter moved in with us, I was afraid I wouldn’t live up to all I wanted to be as an adoptive mother. It felt different, like when I was little and borrowed one of my sister’s sweaters. I was nervous the whole time wearing it, fearful that I might damage something that belonged to someone else. I questioned my every move and wondered if I would ever feel “worthy” of being given this special gift. There was a whole new layer to my feelings of inadequacy as a parent. Not only did I want to make all the right decisions for our daughter, I wanted desperately to do right by her birth mother, to honor the trust she placed in us and somehow assure her that she had in fact made the right decision when she placed her child in our family.
It took some time, but I have come to both understand and accept that the words “deserving” or “worthy” are not meant to be paired with parenting. It is simply impossible to reach a point where I could be worthy of the three children that bless each day of my life. God didn’t give them to me because I was worthy or deserving. He gave them to me because He loves me and He trusts me to return His love by cherishing His children.
It seems all too appropriate that these lessons began to make sense to me during the season of Lent. In looking into the vulnerable eyes of the woman who asked me if I love my adopted daughter as much as my biological children, I see God wondering if I can love His Son. In praying for her strength as she cares for this child in her womb that she will say goodbye to at birth, I think of Jesus’ mother and her incredible sacrifice in bringing into being her son that was to be handed over to a world of sinners. Heart wrenching sacrifice, all in the name of selfless love.
Looking at my daughter’s birth mother, I am left to wonder; how does one say “thank you” for the gift of life? I will love our little girl with everything I am. I will put her needs before my own. When a door closes for her, I will find an open window. When she hurts, I will hurt with her and when she laughs, I will find joy in knowing her heart is happy. I will place her in Jesus’ embrace each morning and ask for His protection over her each day.
God didn’t hand over His son because we were deserving or worthy of such a sacrificial gift. He gave us His son because He loves us that much. Looking at Jesus on the cross, I am left to wonder; how does one say “thank you” for the gift of life?
Copyright 2015, Nicole Johnson
Photo: “Sunshine Cross” by Benjamin Faust (2015) via Stocksnap.