Adoption is an adventure we never intended to take. I suppose most adventures start out this way—unplanned. You’re minding your own business and all of a sudden something catches your attention. There’s movement from under a rock, smoke in the distance, an unrecognizable odor in the air. You’re drawn into the drama even though you never meant to be. That’s how adoption was for us.
I should explain how we came to adopt Rex. Like many adventures, it was not a straight line. There were crags to climb, dips to descend, quick sand at times. There was uncertainty, frustration, dilemma. The course didn’t always seem clear, the way not always obvious. We cried, we paced, we screamed. We faced our limited humanity. But I’m glad we did it.
Growing up, I always planned to get married and start a family. There were three kids in my family of origin, two of them twins (I’m one of them). My parents didn’t know they were having twins. I popped out, then a few minutes later the doctor announced, “Mrs. Heinz, there’s another one up there.” Out popped my brother Matthew. A few years later John was born.
Perhaps because having kids came so easily for my parents (“Oh look honey, there’s another one, and we didn’t even try”), I assumed it would be the same for me. In college I took a class on marriage and family. It was the first time I heard the term infertility. “Some of you will face infertility in your family,” the professor said.
What? Not me, I thought to myself. The thought of dealing with infertility was so far from my mind. I looked around the room wondering which students would be affected. How sad for them. But not for me. Certainly I was safe. I had, after all, planned to have four children. Nothing would get in the way of the Great Family Plan.
After college I moved to California. I met Colette, and a year later we were married. She came from a family of five children, so we seemed destined to have a big family. I would get my four kids after all. After our first year of marriage, we tried to conceive. Only two months later, Colette was pregnant! You see—having kids was easy, I thought. The family plan was underway.
Asia Mae was born in June 2003. With roomy round cheeks and a deep dimple like mine, she turned our world upside down. Asia melted our hearts with a single laugh, and lit our faces with a solitary glance. She was amazing. The only grandchild on my side, she commanded the attention of aunts, uncles, and grandparents with a single word. Asia could do no wrong.
A few years later we decided it was time to grow our family. Conceiving Asia happened so quickly, I knew it would happen the same way again. We started trying. One month, negative—no problem, it took two months with Asia. Two months, negative—no worries, maybe it’ll take three. Three months, negative—have patience, good things take awhile. Six months, negative—do we have any unconfessed sin? Nine months, negative—why, oh why? Eleven months, negative—thought we’d have another kid by now. Twelve months, negative—it’s been a whole year?
As we continued to try, many of our friends conceived. “Can you believe it? We weren’t even trying,” they would say. How nice for you, we thought. For them, conceiving seemed as simple as thinking about it. They would merely set their minds on the possibility of getting pregnant and suddenly they would be—there was nothing to it. Why can’t that happen to us, we wondered.
A year turned to two, which turned to three. Asia asked why she couldn’t have a sibling. We met with a fertility specialist. We both got tested. Then the results came back. The results showed there was nothing wrong with us. This was good news and bad news.
It was good news because there was nothing physically preventing us from conceiving. But it was bad news because there was nothing physically preventing us from conceiving. That is, there was no explanation for our infertility. The doctor called it unexplained infertility. What am I supposed to do with that? It was so uncertain, so out of our control. I had no solutions. We felt hopeless.
But sometimes flowers spring from the dry cracked ground. Sometimes life grows in the desert. Color erupts in the most surprising places. You learn to hope again.
We started to meet people who had adopted. The lady at swimming lessons had adopted a girl from Russia. Our good friends had adopted a teenager from China. The couple at church had adopted several children from Asia. Our friends from college had brought in a boy from Africa. Adoption seemed to be all around us.
Then it hit me. Maybe God was the cause of our unexplained infertility. God, how could you? A miracle is an unexpected event attributed to divine intervention. Usually we think of God opening the womb of a barren woman as the miracle. But couldn’t a miracle work the other way? Couldn’t a miracle be God closing a fertile womb? Couldn’t God be the cause here? I mean, we got tested and all of our parts worked. Was God preventing our pregnancy?
At first it seemed unthinkable. Why would God not give us what we asked for? Why would God allow us to slog through so much pain? Then time passed, like a rock divides a creek in half. Distance happened between the unthinkable and the now. Our incredulity faded and our anger simmered, and we were able to see clearly.
Maybe life was not about the great family plan or what we asked for. Maybe God had more in mind than we thought. I think sometimes God stores up his blessings. He waits until they’ll make maximum impact, until they’ll communicate His overwhelming love in a way that is both unforgettable and extravagant. Then he lets them fly. They land at the most surprising time and catch us unaware. The story’s better this way, so we tell it to others. God is a trickster this way.
And when God tricks us this way, we wish we would have behaved better. We wish we had known what was coming so we could have acted more civilized. But we didn’t—the surprise was part of the joy, the overall effect. And so while we dragged our feet and moaned our sorrows because we wanted our own way, God bombed us with blessings. This is the kind of God He is, trickster and all.
Eventually what was unthinkable became a matter to celebrate. We realized God was blessing us with adoption, surprising as it was. We celebrated the plan we never could have created on our own. We crumpled up the great family plan and embraced a new one, one carved by the hand of God. This was good. This was God. Both, at the same time. We actually felt grateful. God was allowing us to share his burden for the orphan.
This burden is documented in several passages.
In Psalm 68.5-6, David writes, “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families.” By “his holy dwelling,” David is referring to God’s sense of being. God’s identity is to be a father to the fatherless. This is who He is. And God’s purpose, which flows from His identity, is to set the lonely in families. Not only is fathering the orphan what God does, but a father to the orphan is who God is.
In James 1.27, James writes, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.” If religion is the application of a relationship with God, it follows that religion will care for orphans. After all, God’s identity is wrapped up in concern for orphans. So when you have a relationship with God, His identity rubs off on you. To apply the relationship is to look after orphans.
In Luke 15.11-24, Jesus tells the story about a father and a son. The father is rich with property and servants. One day the son tells the father he would like his inheritance now. This is like the son telling his father he wished he was dead. And so the father complies—he hands the son’s inheritance over. The son leaves home. In reckoning his father dead, he has become fatherless.
He travels to a distant country, far from the land of his youth. There he spends his wealth on wild living. But soon he runs out of money, so he devises a plan. He will go home to the father he has lost. However, he won’t return as a son. No, he’ll return as a servant. He’ll say, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.” He’ll beg his father to let him work in the fields or in the pens, or whatever work the servants do.
So the man comes home, and the father sees him from a distance.
“Is this my son?” he wonders. “The son I have been waiting for?” His mind goes back to the day that his son left. The pain swells in his heart, the memory still fresh. He squints to get a better view. “Yes, it is my son!” He pulls up his robes and starts running. He has never run so fast in his life (to run this fast is undignified).
The father arrives at his son. He is sweating and panting from his haphazard sprint. He throws his arms around his son, nonetheless. Then he kisses him with messy joy as sweat and saliva meet.
The son pulls away and says the speech he has rehearsed: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”
But nonsense, the father says, as he embraces his son again. He is so happy to have his son back. He orders a celebration, “Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” The son is home, finally.
This is the story of God and us. We are all lost at some time. We have all scorned the Father and gone our own way, went to distant lands. We thought we’d find better living there. But in our wiser moments, or in times of desperation, we remembered our Father, the one we called dead. So we gathered ourselves up, our hungry and thirsty selves, and journeyed back.
We figured we’d work it off. Be a son again? How could we? “I’m not worthy to be a son again,” we say. But a hired worker? That we can do. So we crawl back to work the fields or the pens or whatever work to which we’re assigned. But what do we find?
The old man has been waiting for us! He runs toward us and presses himself against us. He washes us with his kisses. He loves us still, still calls us son. We push away and try to give our speech, because that’s all we can do. To be a son again would be unthinkable—we’ve called him dead. But He won’t relent. He keeps coming at us with laughs and celebrations, whoops of joy and hollers. God wants to be our Father.
And we need Him to be; sin has made us orphans.
But God is so relentless, so full of fiery pursuit, that He doesn’t leave us orphans. He sent Jesus, his only Son, to reconcile us to Him. This is love at its best, on part of Father and Son. And so by Sonship, we take on sonship. By Jesus, we are adopted into the family of God. We were lost, but now are found. This is the great news of the Gospel—adoption for all who believe, not orphans anymore, says Romans 8.15.
Adoption is shorthand for the Gospel. Adoption is providing a father to the fatherless. This is why Jesus came. To join us with our Heavenly Father. To deliver us to the Family of God. To provide us with belonging. Therefore, when we adopt, we image God, the first father to the fatherless. We also share in God’s burden, carry the weight with Him. And we tell the Story—“You were lost, but now are found.”
We dove into the adoption process. There are many resources on this topic, so I won’t go into it here. I’ll simply say the process took us two years, and it was worth it. One day, we boarded a plane to get our boy. And we came back with him, our son. This son of ours had come home. Rex was here. That’s when the adventure began.