Twelve years ago I, as co-founder of The Shepherd’s Crook Orphan Ministry, posted this on my Facebook page:
“Thanking God this morning that we have found a family for little Gabriel. Now on to Andrew, who continues to wait and wait for someone to come for him — along with the other ~145 million orphans out there. Help us find them homes.“
“Andrew” was a “name” given to this little boy by his adoption agency, solely for the purpose of allowing us to list him on our website without revealing his true name, as required by his birth country. It was reported to us that this sweet boy not only openly longed for a family, but that he also continually tried to encourage other children in his orphanage not to give up hope as they waited for families, too.
I didn’t know it at the time, but “Andrew” would become our own dear son, and his name would be Owen Samuel, which means, “young fighter heard by God.” Five days after the above was posted on Facebook, we began trying to get permission to adopt him ourselves.
Owen’s story was dramatic, as he came very close to being left behind in China forever when agencies decided to return his file to adoption officials in China and give up trying to find a family to adopt him. It was only because of a series of very obvious miracles that we were eventually able to adopt him. But it did happen. Our little guy’s desires were heard by a God whose ways are often confusing to our earthly minds. He had a family. He came home. He had a fresh start, and his whole future had changed.
He did, however, come home to us from a history of tremendous trauma. I shared more details about this in another post, back in 2014. I also shared in that post how God had suddenly filled my heart with an inexplicable, but unmistakable and burning, certainty that I was this little boy’s mother. I knew without a doubt that this darling little boy was mine, and that filled me with courage and the ability to fight as a mother for her son throughout that long battle to get him home.
If you read the post above, you will get a clearer picture of the depth of brokenness our sweet son was battling when he came home to us. God heard our prayers and healed this amazing little boy’s heart so beautifully, and filled him with so much inner peace and contentment, and an outward joy that is infectious. He has the sweetest heart, and the most insatiable desire to learn more and more and more. He especially loves history and geography and all things having to do with wars through the centuries, and he has an uncanny ability to retain trivial facts that he reads on these subjects. I can say from personal experience that he is a person you want on your team when playing a family Jeopardy game!
In spite of these areas of great strength, though, Owen has always struggled — painfully so — with academics. He loves books so much, and I was worried for years that he would never learn to read. Thankfully, though, after years of working with him, using some carefully selected reading programs, he did learn to read. He probably only reads at about a fourth grade level, but he can read, and that opened his world up wide. He finds so much joy in this activity.
Owen turned eighteen in August. And a couple of months before that, we made the decision that he would not be capable of living independently and made arrangements to have him tested to confirm this decision. His testing did exactly that, leaving no doubts in our minds. While he tested as high as the 75th percentile in just a couple of areas (the areas that make him a mighty Jeopardy player on family game night), he scored below the 1st percentile in many other areas, including those that are absolutely essential for caring for oneself. Scott and I then threw ourselves deep into the legal process of preparing for a court hearing to officially become his legal guardians.
It’s pretty much impossible to describe the depth of pain involved in taking this step with one’s precious child. We went through this with our older daughter, Erin, many years ago, and although having already walked this path of grief before does, in some ways, make this a bit easier, it’s still so hard.
Once this decision was made, we sat with Owen and tried to explain it to him. He was so brave and honest and open with his pain as he discussed this. He cried bitter tears as he expressed how devastated he was about the fact that he will never marry or have the opportunity to be a father. But he also told us with a complete sense of trust that he has known for awhile that he needs lots of help and would need some kind of assistance in order to function throughout all of his life. He said innocently that he had hoped it could maybe be an arrangement like the one that Mr. Monk had in the television series, “Monk.” That made us smile in spite of our tears. But he went on to say that he could see that this scenario wouldn’t be enough help for him and that hearing we are taking this step made him feel safe and protected.
I want to repeat those words: he said our decision made him feel safe and protected. That is healing!!!! Deep-down-in-the heart, miraculous healing! It took him so long to learn to trust anyone. And now he is able to place his future in our hands and tearfully and peacefully entrust us with his care for the rest of his life.
When we become parents, we all have dreams and some kind of plans for our children’s futures. These are usually fuzzy and not-too-specific plans, but rarely do these plans include the child requiring lifetime parental care. And these plans, especially for older parents like us, also include figuring out who will take over that care when we are gone as the chances of our “forever children” outliving us are very great.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
This is a verse quoted often in our house. I have always felt that God made sure his children had access to these words of his because he knew we would struggle with understanding many things about the hard journey through this world. He knew we would need to be reminded that, in spite of pain and indescribable hard, he loves us and really does have a beautiful plan being unfolded in the midst of swirling chaos. And that those plans include the perfect future and hope for each of us and each of our children.
But this wasn’t the future we wanted for our boy (or for our daughter Erin or for our daughter Kathryn who will turn eighteen next year and require this same lifetime commitment of care from us).
Initially, as I grieved through this decision, I kept remembering all of the miracles that had brought us this beloved “young fighter heard by God,” and tearfully asked how this could be the right future for him. Being able to release the dreams we have for one of our children, and then set about accepting a whole new — and to our human minds and aching hearts — less-desirable dream and plan, is a grieving process for sure. And that grief is deep and real.
We aren’t all the way through this grief process yet, and I don’t know that we will ever make our way all the way through. As we have walked through many years of this process with Erin, we’ve learned that we will sometimes loop back and re-grieve certain aspects of this new, unexpected future. But we sat in our family room on November 29 of this year for a court hearing in which we legally finalized this decision via Zoom, and we are at peace.
Over and over again, I’m struck by such thankfulness that Owen Samuel is with us for this curve in the road of his life and not still alone and scared and longing for family. He is also at peace, and he and Erin both told us last week that, although they know in their heads that Santa isn’t a person who actually comes down our chimney and leaves their gifts, they want to always wake up to Santa gifts on Christmas morning. Yes, my sweet ones! You will always have Santa. Their new futures do include Santa toys forever, as well as people who love them and will always fight for them and make sure they are safe
I always picture parents of children with special needs arriving in heaven with limps, bandages, scars from old wounds almost healed over, holes in our hearts, and tears streaking our smiling faces, being embraced by the Father who had a beautiful plan all along for each of our babies even though they never made sense to us here.
I will keep asking this Father to help me choose to accept and embrace these new plans, finding beauty and joy every day and seeing all of the ways he shines his faithfulness and glory through my broken little ones. I don’t want to waste any of the days here just because I don’t understand how these plans can be good. “‘I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you … “