The Advent Hope Of Adoption

Over the past couple of years, I have become beguiled by the beauty of the Christian Calendar (if you’re not familiar with the practice, here’s a great, quick introduction). Many churches observe the pinnacles of this tradition in Christmas and Easter. Others have expanded their observance by including Lent and Advent.

One of the Christian seasons many people are most familiar with is that of Advent. Traditionally the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, the theme is that of waiting. Waiting from the double perspective, first, the idea of the New Testament people of God waiting for the coming of Jesus and second, the Post-Cross people of God awaiting Jesus’ Second coming.

As the Old Testament closes, we have a 400 year period of God’s silence. Even before the close of the Old Testament, as God’s people languished in exile, they had already become accustomed to waiting. God had promised them that One would come who would crush the head of the serpent, be a true and better Prophet, Priest and King. And the Israelites find themselves in exile . . .

. . . 400 years . . .

And as the New Testament opens, the Jews find themselves under different oppressors but oppression is still oppression and waiting is still waiting. The people trusted God but the answer seemed dim at best. It’s like in Psalm 46:5 when the Psalmist says that God will be the help of the holy city “when the morning dawns”. But what do we do when it perpetually feels as though it’s 1:30am? We may believe that God will show up when the morning comes but what do we do when it feels like the morning is never coming?

A sense of waiting pervades Christianity. We trust in the future promises in the present because of His past faithfulness. He has shown Himself to be faithful. He has proven trustworthy. But He is not in a hurry. And his timing is not ours. This is the theme of Advent. We must trust in the waiting. We know that the darkness is not permanent. The morning will dawn. As Cheryl Bridges Johns says: “Advent asks us to sit a while in the darkness, waiting for the light of God.

Over the course of this Advent season, I have been dwelling deeply on this sense of waiting and the hope which much see us through the waiting. I like in the Modern West. Christians long for Jesus’ Second coming but I’m not sure we can our waiting always translates into longing. In the West, most Christians live fairly comfortable lives and we don’t often identify with the need of rescue felt by the oppressed.

But I think that Scripture provides us with some insight into the true longing represented in the Advent season. Consider Romans 8:18-25:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

This passage has meant a lot to me over the years but I don’t know that I’ve ever really dwelt deeply on one of its key ideas: “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons.” Something about this recently laid me low. As of September 2016, there are 18,000 kids in the Arizona foster care system. 18,000 children waiting to for their home. “We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons.” Paul asks us to identify with those waiting to be adopted. This is the spirit of Advent.

And yet, on this side of the Cross, we do not wait or hope in vain. Christ has already delivered the firstfruits. His first Coming assures us of His second. As a parent of four adopted children, this imagery has brought new depth to Advent for me. Parentless children longing for promised-adoption, the homeless brought home, the far-off made family. Advent asks us to remember that the darkness will not last, the morning will dawn again because the Son has come.

What A Long Strange Trip It’s Been (Or, How We Ended Up Adopting 4 Kids At Once)

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In the swelter of the 2012 Phoenix summer, my wife Kristi and I became foster parents. This was something we had prayed about for a long time but we kept having biological kids, so the time just never seemed right. We had four boys of our own but we loved the idea of opening our lives and home to those who had no home. We were compelled by God’s love to embrace sacrifice for the benefit of others. When our youngest son was old enough that we could open our home to kids without disrupting our birth order, we did exactly that.

After becoming licensed for foster care, which was its own adventure, we had two placements, each for five days a piece. The first was a baby girl named after a character in the Twilight series. I was quickly made aware that people actually do read those books because several people recognized the name. I have not read or watched Twilight so I was unfamiliar with the name. Our second placement was a little Native American boy. No one was certain of his age and he mumbled everything except when he told our agency case-worker that he would kick her ass. He said that clear as day.

Then we got a call from CPS asking if we could come to the hospital and pick up a two-day old baby boy named Gage. Sure we could! We were foster parents and who doesn’t love babies! CPS told us that Gage had three full-blood siblings who were living together in another foster home way on the other side of town and that the plan was for him to eventually go be with them. That was fine with us. He was cute as could be, but we were foster parents who signed up to foster. We already had four boys for crying out loud!

But then we had Gage for months. And months. And months. And finally, parental rights were severed for all four siblings, so we began the process to adopt him while the other foster home began the process of adopting his two brothers and sister. Then we got another call from CPS.

This time, they asked if we would be willing to take the three siblings. One of the brothers was in a full-body cast with a broken femur and no one knew why. The ER doctors said that the foster Mom’s explanation did not match the injury so they had to declare it non-accidental. The kids were removed immediately. Elizabeth and Paul spent the night in a CPS office while Danny was in the hospital by himself. We drove to the other side of town to meet our CPS caseworker outside of the hospital where Danny was and we went from 5 kids to 8.

It wasn’t long before we thought “Oh crap, what have we done?! We know 8 kid people and God bless them, but we don’t think we’re those people.” We wrestled with a lot of things. We questioned whether or not we were just being selfish. We questioned whether or not we could give all of the kids the love and attention they needed, especially with three young kids who had already lived in multiple homes.

While we were trying to find clarity in a murky situation, some good family friends from our church told us that they wanted to adopt the two middle boys, Danny and Paul. We all prayed and talked and it seemed good to us and the Holy Spirit. This would have put us at six kids (which was still more than we had ever thought we would have). So in October, 2013, our friends Chris and Amy became foster parents. “WOW,” we thought, “How cool?! The siblings would grow up knowing each other! They could still play together and have sleepovers.” It seemed like a perfect fit. They took Danny and Paul in November of 2013 to begin the adoption process.

But within a month, Amy received a diagnosis of stage 4/terminal breast cancer and everything changed.

Kristi and I once again struggled with whether or not we were 8 kid people and whether or not it even mattered what we felt. As a pastor, I’ve taught about dying to self in order to follow Jesus. Were we willing to put this into practice? Were we willing to die to ourselves 24/7 for the next ________ years? We prayed and asked whether or not it was selfish if we felt like we were not supposed to adopt all four kids? We concluded that it didn’t matter what we thought about whether or not we were 8 kid people or not. God had intertwined our life with these kids and they had already captured our hearts.

We told Chris and Amy that, in the midst of their cancer battle, if they still wanted to adopt Danny and Paul, we would support their decision. This was what we all felt was best. But no one anticipates cancer. There are some things you can’t prepare for, so if it ever got to be too much, we would take the boys back and adopt all four siblings.

They called on Christmas Day. I drove over there and picked up Danny and Paul, heavy with the burden of cancer and excited about a new phase of our own life. We were getting two sons for Christmas and facing the loss of a friend. If ever there was a bittersweet day, that was one.

Since we had already begun the process of adopting Gage, CPS expedited the process for the others as well. In January of 2014, we adopted all four of them, becoming the Thomas Ten.

Our friend Amy passed away in April and I preached her memorial service.

Though it has not always been easy, we don’t for one second-guess or question our decision. Though we get stares when we go out in public and drive a 12-passenger van, and we wish things had happened under different circumstances and we miss our dear friend Amy, we have no doubt that this is where God has led us.

So next time you see a large family out in public, instead of gawking, ask them how you can help. After all, you never know their story.