When Tiffani and I started the adoption journey, it sounded like fun. We were excited and hopeful. God ordained this. He planted the seed, and we agreed to give it water. We weren’t sure how fast the seed would grow or what it would look like once it matured. We just knew God wanted us to do adopt. So we jumped in.
But adoption’s not fun anymore.
June 16, after forty-one months of fundraisers, paperwork, prayer, and hopeful expectation, we were matched with a little girl from India. I’ll never forget seeing her face for the first time. Her name was Lovely, and that’s exactly what she was. Her name was also Matsy Grace, the name we chose for our first girl (for simplicity’s sake, I’ll call her Lovely moving forward). Tiffani and I looked at her picture – we only had one – most of the night. The emotional connection was instantaneous. We were still six months away from holding her for the first time, but she was already our daughter.
After receiving the referral, our agency recommended we update her medical information. This would ensure two things: up-to-date records (and treatments, if necessary) as well as new pictures and videos.
We waited nearly three weeks for the results.
July 3, we received three new videos. Tiffani watched them first. And what she saw disturbed her. Lovely looked feeble and malnourished. At the time, I was with a few friends. Before sending me the videos, Tiffani called. When your wife feels it’s necessary to warn you beforehand, you know it’s bad.
I put off watching them. I’m not sure why. Maybe I needed time to prepare. Maybe I hoped Tiffani was exaggerating about her health. When I finally hit the play button, my worst fears were realized.
At the time, I remained positive, both for myself and my family. She would be okay. The doctors in India would give her the proper attention. We would be there in a few months. Looking back, however, Lovely wasn’t okay. She was dying.
The next day, July 4, while our country celebrated freedom and independence, I felt shackled by the chains of paperwork and time. Lovely needed medical attention, and she needed it now. Tiffani researched the area around Lovely’s orphanage for jobs. Everyone needs a part-time speech therapist and pastor/engineer, right? She found nothing.
We were helpless. Rarely in our modern world, with advances in travel, health, and communication, are we in helpless situations. Our daughter was in serious trouble, however, and we couldn’t physically help her.
In this moment I realized my god complex was worse than I thought, much worse. Prayerful trust was my only option, and I didn’t like it. I’ve been taught God doesn’t bless idleness. Prayer matters, but it’s only one side of the equation.
Well, what happens when you can’t act? All you can do is wait…and trust.
Here’s what happened to me: self-doubt, restlessness, and frustration. A god complex doesn’t like inaction. It refuses to believe another person is in control, even if that person is God.
Not all heroism is evil, but when we believe a happy ending – our ending, in other words – is more important than God’s plan, we have problem. I’ll be honest, part of me wanted to “finish the deal.” I wanted the world to see me holding Lovely. I wanted to remove her from the brokenness and give her a life she couldn’t experience otherwise.
I’m not beating up on myself. I’m trying to communicate something about God. On my best day, when I put my best foot forward, when I search deep within my soul for unchecked agendas and biases, I’m still broken and selfish. God knows this yet still allows me to participate in his eternal redemption story.
We serve an amazing God.
July 5, less than 48 hours after watching the heart-breaking videos, we received the news. Lovely died. She was fifteen months old.
When Tiffani called and, through tears, uttered the words, I was numb. Or maybe I was emotionally paralyzed. I’m not sure. I didn’t know how to feel. How do you grieve this? How do you make sense of it? Lovely is my daughter. She died in an orphanage, before her second birthday. She died without seeing her family. She died alone.
That last sentence still keeps me up at night.
Death is inevitable. Most of us hate this reality. We would rather pretend death doesn’t exist than embrace it. In doing so, ironically, we avoid life. Real life, the kind Jesus promised in John 10:10, happens when we embrace both our limited and limitless natures. Otherwise, we’re left to create toxic god complexes, driven by selfish ambitions and fueled by fear.
I’m at peace with Lovely’s death. She’s whole now. She’s with God. But I’m not at peace with her final days. No one should die alone. No one should pass from this life to the next without a familiar hand nearby. Not even the most vile of human beings deserves such a fate.
Tragically, this is the fate for hundreds of thousands of orphans. They die alone. Their lives aren’t remembered or celebrated. While a funeral wasn’t possible, we refused to allow Lovely’s life to pass without doing something.
So we planned a celebration. Lovely will always be our daughter. She will always be loved. She will always have a family. These things should be celebrated.
We gathered with friends and family. I shared a few tear-filled thoughts. I rambled, really. No words make sense of tragedy. We released balloons into the sky. And we planted a tree, her tree. Incidentally, an hour or so after planting her tree, the bottom fell out. The heavens released at least an inch of rain. Maybe it’s coincidence. I choose to think otherwise.
Every time I visit my in-laws, I will stop short of their house to spend a few moments with Lovely.
I need you to understand something. I don’t despair of life. I’m not mad at God. Far from it. I’m even more convinced death isn’t final.
Love never dies. Hope never fails. I cling to these eternal truths with more certainty than ever. I’m not sure I’ll recognize Lovely in heaven. But I know she’s there. And, as a father, that’s the ultimate goal, the only goal, for my children. Lovely taught me not to fear death. She also showed me there’s a different kind of death, one that chooses fear and hate over love. Make no mistake, this death is a choice, a daily decision. These words in Deuteronomy have stuck with me the last few weeks.
“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life.”
Unfortunately, we choose this death too often, myself included. Moving forward, I’ll choose it less. Instead, I’ll choose gratitude. I’ll choose to enjoy every day for what it is, not what I expect it to be. I’ll choose love because it binds us together, all of us, it somehow binds me to Lovely, and it ultimately binds me to God.
I encourage you to choose this life as well.
I love you all. To God be the glory forever. Amen!