Editor's note: This is part of a six-story series about adoption. Other stories about international adoption can be read here and here . Stories about domestic adoption are available here , here and here .
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--In just a few days our home will be decorated with colorful lanterns, lit not by candles, but by tiny incandescent bulbs. There will be other trimmings as well, most of them bright red in color. Our family will go to special parties with memorable entertainment and delicious food. These are not remnants of the Christmas season; it's nearly Spring Festival time (typically known as Chinese New Year in the U.S.).
Just over three years ago I couldn't have told you where this annual celebration fell on the calendar. I typically spent this time of the year taking down outdoor Christmas lights and packing away the last of the holiday knickknacks that we discovered in the house. Now we have a son and a daughter from China whose birthdays both fall near festival time. I suddenly have an affinity for China -- its culture, not its government -- that I did not have before. And my wife, Marla, and I are committed to bringing up our youngest children with an appreciation, if not an understanding, of the rich cultural heritage of their homeland.
We are not a prototypical adoptive family. Gracee and James are not our only children; they are, respectively, number 6 and number 7. I thought we had wrapped up having children when our youngest biological children were born in 1991. We had five children, far more than the Census Bureau's "average family," and I believed my quiver was full. I knew I was blessed. Fast forward 15 years -- a lot went on in that decade and a half -- and we were in Hefei, Anhui, meeting our 17-month-old healthy daughter.
When we left China in August 2005 with Gracee in our arms, I sensed we would be coming back -- and not just for some sightseeing when our daughter was older.
And in August 2008, a week after the Olympics ended, my wife and I were on a Northwestern Airlines 747 enroute to Beijing. Several days later we met our youngest son, James, in Chongqing.
What prompted us (both of us already have broken through the half-century mark) to become parents of preschoolers again, one of them who has medical needs? It was not of us, but of God's love, His persistent calling and the very special testimony of other families who made the journey before us.
We already had five children, and I wondered if could I actually love another child as much as I loved my other children. The answer was yes -- a resounding yes. God can stretch your heart.
We have gained a rich understanding of what it means to be "chosen" by God. When I hold either one of our four-year-olds tight against me, I am grateful for what God has done in our lives. When I check on them in their beds before my wife and I retire for the night, I am thankful for our youngest children's birth mothers, who for whatever reason chose to give James and Gracee life but determined they could not provide for them. Unfortunately, a growing number of babies, especially girls in China, are dispatched before birth after an ultrasound reveals their sex.
If I didn't believe in the wonder-working of God, I would say our adoption experiences were nothing short of magical, but I am confident that it was God who was orchestrating every detail, who heard our family's and friends' prayers to keep our child safe and to place a hope in their heart, long before we even knew their name or saw their face in a photograph.
Adoption itself is not for everyone. The wait can be long, it is costly, and there are often more unknowns than knowns. For those not called to grow their family by adoption, there are numerous ministries and other humanitarian organizations that aid these children who remain in orphanages and who support the families who are adopting.
Yet many children still need a "forever" family. Many are in the U.S. in children's homes or foster care, while others are overseas and have special needs that can be readily treated here in America or are older and therefore less attractive to some families; unfortunately, in a growing number of countries, many children are effectively locked in an institutional life by uncooperative governmental authorities who refuse to allow them to be adopted. Each child deserves to know the love and affection only a family can provide.
Children needing homes come in nearly every shape and size and in a variety of skin tones. Some are perfectly healthy, some are older and some are broken -- physically or emotionally -- but God has a family for each of them. It is very much a picture of what He provides for us in Christ.
There is a story told on the website of Love without Boundaries (lovewithoutboundaries.com), an organization that provides medical and nutritional assistance to orphans and impoverished children in China. It is related that there was a young girl who was given a beautiful red coat by someone who visited her orphanage. One day the nannies came and took her red coat and placed it on another child -- just for a few moments -- so that this other little girl could have her picture taken wearing the coat. The girl who had been given the coat was very upset and began crying. The institution staff believed the little girl was just being selfish, so they went over to her to reprimand her. It was only then when they heard clearly what the little girl was saying over and over as she sobbed, "Take MY picture ... please take MY picture. I want a family. Take my picture so I can have a family, too." This little girl, who was only three-years-old, had made the connection that when a child's picture is taken, it likely meant they would soon leave the orphanage with their family because they had been made available for adoption.
My heart is broken over the fact that our youngest son will never have a record of the first four and half years of his life and that our youngest daughter has no documentation of the first 17 months of her life. No infant pictures, no first booties or worn baby blanket tucked in a memory chest. But my heart is gladdened that they both will always have a family that loves them and that someday they will know personally this God who held them tight and comforted them until we could hold them, whispering prayers of gratitude for His marvelous provision in their lives and in our own.
Dwayne Hastings is a vice president with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.